President Obama plans to remove all but 6,000 to 9,000 US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, ending the American combat role, saving tens of billions of dollars and leaving an unpopular, incompetent and corrupt Karzai regime needing a diplomatic fix to avert collapse into civil war.
Although not officially announced, the numbers have been reported in recent days. The Los Angeles Times predicts 6,000–9,000, while the New York Times reports “under 10,000.” Troop cuts in that range will mean a 90–95 percent reduction from 109,000, the highest US level reported in 2010. It would require a 60,000 reduction between now and late 2014. The pace of the withdrawal has not been announced but is expected any day.
The numbers are well below those requested by the Pentagon, which range from 15,000 troops and upward. Opposition to Obama’s reductions is expected from neo-conservative and military advocates as well as congressional hawks. Obama has gained political cover, however, from the recent sixty-two Senate votes cast for “accelerated” withdrawal and a similar message in a letter from ninety-four House members. The recent New York Times editorial finally endorsing a one-year withdrawal also provides critical support from within the mainstream political and national security establishments.
Obama’s decision, and the stand taken by congressional peace advocates, is consistent with his campaign pledge to begin steady American withdrawals after a two-year surge of 33,000 troops. The surge was a concession to generals like Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, and to cabinet hawks including Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who fought for withdrawals to be based on “conditions” rather than timelines. In Bob Woodward’s account, Obama’s Wars, the president is quoted as saying, “I’m not an advocate of the timetable, but it will come from the Hill,” by Democrats in Congress. In fact, the White House quietly supported language advocating an accelerated timetable for “swift withdrawal” and a “significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011” in the Democratic National Committee resolution of February 24, 2011. The resolution was sponsored by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mike Honda, and longtime Democratic leaders Donna Brazile and Alice Germond.
The critical resolution reflected the demands of local peace networks and rank-and-file Democrats across the country. Behind closed doors, Obama told Senator Lindsay Graham, “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party. And people at home don’t want to hear we’re going to be there another for another ten years.”
As the recent reports show, the new Obama plan already “has sparked internal criticism at the Pentagon” which argues for a “sizable military presence” to be deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, according to the LA Times. Obama’s troop reductions are likely to spur even sharper cuts in NATO forces. The Afghan army, according to Pentagon sources, will face “enormous difficulties” as the American troops leave. There were 2,500 insurgent attacks every month this year from April to September, higher levels than in 2009, according to a recent Pentagon report to Congress.