When President Obama took office in the White House in 2009, one of the first things he did was move forward on the “surge” in Afghanistan when he sent 33,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. The NYT and the WSJ are now reporting that President Obama will announce plans on Wednesday to either significantly reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan.
Obama’s decision on Afghanistan hasn’t been finalized yet; there are a wide range of options being discussed by Obama and senior White House officials including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. A more conservative plan would schedule 5,000 troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan in twelve months from now. Another plan would attempt to bring home all of the 30,000-33,000 members of the armed forces home. There is still another option being considered by the Administration which would give the armed forces—commanders in the field in particular--the power to set the calendar for the withdrawal of troops within Afghanistan.
The military’s proposal for troop withdrawal would begin immediately with 3,000-5,000 troops coming home in July, with the same amount coming home by the end of the year.
Others are advocating for a withdrawal of 15,000 armed forces members this year, and 15,000 the next year, but again, if the decision has been made about the number of troops to be withdrawn, it has not yet been made public. The NYT is reporting that Obama is keeping his plans close to his chest.
Once the 30,000-33,000 troops which were initially deployed for the surge are withdrawn from Afghanistan, there will still be 68,000 US troops still in Afghanistan. (The NYT and the WSJ have conflicting numbers.)
Since the death of Osama bin Laden, it has become harder for Obama to justify the number of troops that are currently in Afghanistan. In addition, the current rate of unemployment in the US is hovering at around 9% and more money is needed at home to stimulate the economy and fund programs.
Officials are stating that a majority of troops should be home by the end of 2014. Unfortunately, no one is claiming victory in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not optimistic about recent attempts to negotiate with the Taliban with the goal of getting the Taliban to end their association with Al Qaeda. Gates’ statements will likely increase the pressure on the Administration to get out of Afghanistan entirely.