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World Week Ahead: Afghan Troop Downsizing; Gates Exit Interview

BY Larisa Epatko  June 20, 2011 at 10:37 AM EST

U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

AFGHANISTAN | Amid debate and leaks from various camps, President Obama is expected this week or next to announce the size of the beginning of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in July.

Read: A New York Times article delves into how the threat of al-Qaida factors into the president’s decision-making.

Read: The National Journal writes that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, likely will endorse an Obama proposal bringing the 30,000 surge troops back by the end of 2012.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that U.S. officials were engaged in preliminary talks with the Taliban on a political solution to the war, but that they would take time.

“My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make any substantive headway until at least this winter. I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure, and begin to believe that they can’t win before they’re willing to have a serious conversation,” he said.

On Monday’s NewsHour, we’ll have a report about how three Afghan women view the talks with the Taliban and the U.S. withdrawal.

DEFENSE | Jim Lehrer interviews Gates on Thursday about his four-and-a-half years as defense secretary, overseeing two wars and advising the president on defense policy. Gates is leaving his post at the end of June.

Before he goes, the Defense Department is expected to come out with a gameplan on cybersecurity just as hackers announce a war on government and other websites.

Read: Four military analysts grade Gates’ handling of Iraq, Afghanistan and Defense budget cuts.

SUDAN | The U.N. Security Council is meeting Monday about the tensions between Northern and Southern Sudan and reports of violence ahead of South Sudan becoming an independent country on July 9.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the oil-rich central town of Abyei since fighting between northern and southern forces began in May.

The fighting has since spread to neighboring Blue Nile state and Southern Kordofan, where at least 60,000 people have fled their homes. Khartoum’s military said it would continue fighting what it called an armed rebellion.

President Obama expressed concern last week with the security situation in Sudan after meeting with U.S. envoy to the country, Princeton Lyman.

After the South voted to split from the North in January, both sides have been negotiating a range of issues, including distributing oil wealth, sharing the country’s debt and the administration of Abyei.

Updated 3 p.m. ET: On Monday, officials from the North and South signed an agreement to demilitarize Abyei and allow Ethiopian peacekeepers to operate in the area. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who is acting as a mediator, said the move would allow residents to start moving back, reported the Associated Press.

SYRIA | Syrian President Bashar Assad made his first public address in two months Monday, saying he would not bow to pressure from “saboteurs” but that he was willing to hold a dialogue on reforms. Opponents dismissed the speech as vague and empty words.

Read: Reuters has a timeline of events since protests began in March.

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