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Obama to Unveil Timetable for U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

June 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
White House officials confirmed that President Obama will announce plans for the initial U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan in a primetime speech Wednesday night. Jeffrey Brown reports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama has made his decision about the size and pace of the initial U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

White House officials confirmed today that he will announce his plan tomorrow evening in a nationally televised address.

The president and his war counselors huddled at the White House today, ahead of tomorrow night’s announcement. Earlier, Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton had nothing to say about specifics of the impending troop drawdown, but Gates, who has publicly favored only a modest reduction, did say that more than just military factors are weighing on the decision.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: There are a lot of reservations in the Congress about the war in Afghanistan and our level of commitment. There are concerns among the American people, who are tired of a decade of war.

So, the president obviously has to take those matters into consideration, as well as the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, the price of that decade of war has been steep, more than 1,500 Americans killed and nearly half-a-trillion dollars spent.

And polls show an increasingly weary American public — 56 percent in the latest Pew survey ready to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible. Since President Obama took office, the number of American troops in Afghanistan has tripled to about 100,000. In December 2009, at West Point, he announced the surge of 30,000 of those troops centered largely in southern Afghanistan.

And he set a time frame for beginning an American withdrawal.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: According to reports today, the president is now leaning toward a reduction of 10,000 troops by the end of this year, with the first 5,000 leaving this summer.

Another option said to be favored by military leaders would call for a slower withdrawal, 3,000 to 5,000 troops by the end of the year. But some in Congress, and even reportedly some of the president’s top advisers, have pushed for a much faster and bigger pullback.

The pacing of the pullout has divided Congress. Republican Sen. John McCain told ABC this morning that he wants a minimal drawdown.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: This date never should have been set to start with. It was done for political reasons, with no recommendation from any of our military leaders. But I hope that it’s modest. And I believe that one more fighting season, and we can get this thing pretty well wrapped up.

JEFFREY BROWN: But among many of McCain’s colleagues and the public, last month’s U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has bolstered a conviction that the time to begin leaving Afghanistan is now — one sign of that, in late May, a House vote garnered a surprisingly large bipartisan coalition urging a faster withdrawal.

And, today, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said bin Laden’s al-Qaida cohorts are on the run, and that means America’s job in Afghanistan should be finished.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.Va.: Intelligence estimates suggest that there are only between 50 and 100 al-Qaida terrorists harbored there. Because of incredible work of our military men and women, the mission of destroying al-Qaida in Afghanistan, by all accounts, has been a success.

But the real truth is, after 10 years, our current mission in Afghanistan has become less about destroying al-Qaida and more about building a country where one, frankly, has never existed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thursday begins the sales job for whatever the president announces tomorrow night. Secretary Clinton will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And the president himself will travel to Fort Drum, N.Y. It’s home to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which has seen repeated deployments to Afghanistan over the last 10 years.