The White House today said that President Obama will make a decision about the size of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan “fairly soon,” and he will base it on “conditions on the ground.” White House officials also said the troop drawdown will begin in July, as originally planned.
The announcement comes on the heels of a New York Times article, which reported:
President Obama’s national security team is contemplating troop reductions that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago.
Administration officials reacted by saying Obama is planning a “real drawdown” of U.S. forces. However, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the specifics have not been worked out. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Carney’s remarks saying, “We have absolutely not made specific decisions, because we’re still gathering our best assessment.”
The president today held his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team. During the meeting, Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- via video -- briefed the president on his recent trip to Afghanistan. Over the weekend, Gates met with troops and called for a “modest” drawdown adding: “I’d leave the shooters till last.”
In 2009, Obama ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, and also promised to begin a drawdown this July. He also stated that all combat troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014, a timetable which is still in place, according to Carney.
The president has been under increasing pressure on Afghanistan for a number of reasons: The war has been expensive, costing America an estimated $2 billion per week; some polls show it losin public support; and there is a collective sense that, after Osama Bin Laden’s death, it is time to turn the corner.
Overall, there seems to be a growing fatigue for combat operations among both Democrats and Republicans. Last Friday, the House overwhelmingly issued a rebuke of Obama's Libya policy. On Monday, five U.S. troops were killed in Iraq during a rocket attack -- several months before the proposed departure of all U.S. troops from that country. Still, some military officials have expressed concern that an accelerated drawdown in Afghanistan could undermine security gains in the region.
Obama will discuss the matter with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday (via videoconference). There are currently U.S. 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.