(Reuters/Jeff J Mitchell)
President Obama is rumored to have made his decision on a plan for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and is expected to lay out the timetable Wednesday evening. Unconfirmed reports are saying Obama will announce the withdrawal of up to 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of this year.
A televised address is expected at 8 p.m. EST and some reports are saying up to a third of the 30,000 “surge” troops dispatched to Afghanistan in 2010 will be withdrawn within the next six months. If that is the case, it is expected a timetable will also be set to remove the rest of the extra forces by the end of 2012.
The outgoing commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Patraeus, has made a number of recommendations to Obama about how the U.S. could withdraw its troops beginning as early as next month.
With next year’s presidential race already beginning to gather pace, Obama will see successful withdrawal of U.S. troops as a vital goal in his bid to gain a second term in the White House. Obama will be mindful of a growing lack of support for the war in the U.S. public, as he prepares to ramp up his 2012 re-election campaign.
However, the withdrawal tactics are a political minefield, as Obama must weigh the urgent need to rein in government spending on the costly Afghan conflict, with the need to ensure military advances over the past year are not compromised by too hasty a pull-out.
According to Reuters, Robert Lamb, a conflict expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington analyzed: “There's almost no decision Obama can make that's a good one. We are in an economic crisis and this an expensive war.”
He added, “On the other hand, we can't leave an Afghanistan that is unstable – it's not in our interest to be seen as cutting and running.”
A number of those in Congress in particular are highlighting the massive cost of the conflict, which is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $110 billion a year. They are calling on a speedy withdrawal. However, at the same time some of the military’s most senior leaders have warned that too hasty a withdrawal could jeopardize American lives, and could undo much of the work that so many have fallen to achieve.
Obama is expected to announce that one brigade of about 5,000 troops will leave Afghanistan this summer and a second similarly sized brigade will be out by December.
That figure is believed to be significantly higher than General David Petraeus, his top commander on the ground, had wanted.
The precise details of next month’s initial pull-out were still secret last night, but most major U.S. media outlets were reporting the figures as a matter of fact.
According to a Pew Research poll released Tuesday, a record 56 percent of Americans favor bringing forces home as quickly as possible.
July will mark the official start of NATO's handover to local security forces in Afghanistan, and is part of the wider picture to allow Afghan soldiers to take charge of the country entirely by the end of 2014.