Eighteen months after a "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops departed for Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama made the case to war-weary Americans on Wednesday for a phased withdrawal of American military forces.
Speaking at the White House, Obama said that Afghanistan no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States, announcing the withdrawal of 10,000 troops by the end of the year, about 10 percent of the U.S. military contingent in Afghanistan. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 surge would leave by next summer, which would amount to the pullback of about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country.
The president talked about the financial toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the United States, according to USA Today, saying:
"Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource -- our people."
The drawdown would leave about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, more than twice the number there in late 2008, the New York Times reports. The U.S. and NATO allies say they will completely transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014.
However, conflict continues to rage between the White House and the military over troop withdrawal, writes GlobalPost's HDS Greenway. The troop reductions, which come after fierce internal debate, are more extensive and faster than the recommendations made by Obama’s military commanders.
According to the Times:
Obama’s decision is a victory for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has long argued for curtailing the American military engagement in Afghanistan. But it is a setback for his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who helped write the Army’s field book on counterinsurgency policy, and who is returning to Washington to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Two administration officials said General Petraeus did not endorse the decision.
In withdrawing troops, Obama is implementing the strategy for Afghanistan he outlined in a high-profile speech to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Dec. 1, 2009, under which the first troops deployed as part of the surge would leave in July 2011.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that the American people were "tired of a decade of war." He noted there are "a lot of reservations" in Congress about the war and the level of U.S. commitment," VOA reports.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government spends about $10 billion each month fighting the war in Afghanistan, VOA reports.
The AP writes that the withdrawal plan for Afghanistan marks the beginning of the end of a troop-intensive approach to countering a Taliban insurgency and that the Obama administration will shift the U.S. military's focus more toward targeting terrorist leaders.
Other recent GlobalPost stories on Afghanistan: