U.S. Afghanistan Drawdown Begins Slowly, 800 Marines Out in Fall

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s drawdown in Afghanistan will begin slowly, with the departure of just 800 National Guard troops this summer, followed by some 800 Marines in the fall, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The details provided by Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the outgoing No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials offered the most detailed look so far at how the U.S. military intends to carry out the withdrawal ordered by Obama in June.

Facing growing political opposition to the nearly decade-old war, Obama announced plans to pull out about a third of the 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012 — a faster timetable than the military had recommended.

The first 10,000 troops will come home by the end of the year. But Obama left the details up to his commanders.

“We have begun the process of working ourselves out of a job — meaning we will hand over the lead to the Afghans gradually, over time,” said Rodriguez, speaking to reporters in a video-conference from Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s small initial drawdown leaves as many as 8,400 troops to withdraw in the last few months of 2011, and Rodriguez said he expected commanders to wait until later in the fall before deciding how to thin out those forces.

Jeffrey Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, said Rodriguez’s announcement was within expectations — particularly given the need to keep the bulk of troops in place until the end of the year.

“What the commanders are trying to do is conserve as much combat power as they can until the end of the fighting season,” Dressler said.

Rodriguez and the Pentagon offered the following details on the initial drawdown, without ruling out further changes.

* The Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment in Kabul, with about 300 troops, leaves in July.

* The Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 113rd Cavalry Regiment, also leaves in July.

* 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in southwest Afghanistan, with over 800 troops, will leave in fall.

Critics have said Obama’s decision to bring troops home from Afghanistan faster than the military has recommended could jeopardize the next major push of the war, to unseat insurgents in the east.
Republican Senator John McCain, speaking in Kabul on Sunday, said Obama’s drawdown plan created “unnecessary risk.”

Although extra U.S. troops ordered into southern Afghanistan have made security gains there, the situation in the east of the country bordering Pakistan has deteriorated.

Rodriguez, however, said U.S. military plans to shift the focus to the east remained on track, despite the drawdown.

“As we continue to maintain the momentum in the south … we will end up thinning out down there first, and then focusing more and more of our energy in the east,” he said.

Still, he declined to say when that might happen, adding: “It’s a little bit too early to take that guess right now.”

The drawdown comes amid intense fighting in Afghanistan, where more than 1,500 U.S. forces have been killed since the war began. Last week, insurgents staged a brazen raid on the Kabul Intercontinental hotel, killing 12 people and raising fresh questions about whether Afghan forces are ready to assume responsibilities as U.S. forces pull out.

Rodriguez commended the Afghan forces on what he called a “great response” to the attack but played down expectations that violence would ebb any time soon.

Asked whether he expected violence to start subsiding this year or next, Rodriguez said: “That remains to be seen. It’ll actually probably be next year.”

(Additional reporting by David Alexander; editing by Todd Eastham)

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US Mulls Larger Troop Pullout from Afghanistan: Report

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

AFP

WASHINGTON: Top White House national security advisers are considering much more significant troop reductions in Afghanistan than those discussed even a few weeks ago, The New York Times reported late Sunday.

The newspaper said some officials were arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden.

President Barack Obama is expected to address these decisions in a speech to the nation this month, the report said.

The National Security Council is convening its monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, and assessments from that meeting are likely to inform decisions about the size of the force, The Times said.

Before the new thinking, US officials were anticipating an initial drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops, the paper noted.

Those advocating steeper troop reductions did not propose a withdrawal schedule, according to the report.

But the latest strategy review is about far more than how many troops to take out in July, the paper noted. It is also about setting a final date by which all of the 30,000 surge troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, The Times said.

Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last year in a bid to gain the initiative in the war against Taliban-led insurgents which started in 2001, while vowing to begin pulling out forces by mid-2011.

Roughly 100,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of an international force.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Afghanistan Saturday that a “modest” number of troops would likely be pulled out in July and argued for maintaining pressure on the insurgents to force them to the negotiating table possibly by the end of the year.

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