Persistent waffling on dates for American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan has eroded any remaining patience with the Obama White House among peace activists and voters, a majority of whom favors a timeline for US troop withdrawals.
Nancy Youssef of McClatchy reports that the White House has decided to de-emphasize its pledge to begin withdrawing US forces by next July, and adopt a new goal of withdrawing by 2014. The New York Times on November 11 described the new policy as "effectively a victory for the military." Seeming to miss the point entirely, the White House immediately declared it was "crystal clear" that there will be no change to the July 2011 date for beginning the drawdown.
The credibility problem is that the White House has never defined the scale of its initial drawdown, lending credence to reports that the elusive pursuit of "success" will take years. Filling in the blanks is the only way the White House can repair this image crisis. For example, Obama could promise to withdraw 50,000 US troops between 2011–12, a number that would dispel the aura of tokenism and weakness that now surrounds US policy. The moderate Afghanistan Study Group, whose members have ties to the White House, has proposed withdrawing 32,000 by next October and another 38,000 by the following July. The AFG has stated, "The U.S. cannot afford to continue waffling on its commitments, lest it lose what little credibility it has with Afghan people. Reneging on the July deadline will also likely have adverse political effects given that war is already very unpopular.
The president is expected to clarify his goals at a NATO conference this week. America’s leading military partner, the United Kingdom, with some 9,500 troops, has already floated 2014 as the deadline for its troop departure. Canada, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands, whose combat troops total a combined 14,850, are all in the process of withdrawing by 2014 at the latest.
The projected costs of another three years are staggering and rarely reported. Assuming the current pattern of American casualties and costs through 2012, followed by a 50 percent reduction in those figures in 2013–14, Pentagon data reveal the following: