Military leaders and President Obamaâ€™s civilian advisers are girding for battle over the size and pace of the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, has not presented a recommendation on the withdrawal to his superiors at the Pentagon, but some senior officers and military planning documents have described the July pullout as small to insignificant, prompting deep concern within the White House.
At a meeting of his war cabinet this month, Obama expressed displeasure with such characterizations of the withdrawal, according to three senior officials with direct knowledge of the session. â€œThe president made it clear that he wants a meaningful drawdown to start in July,â€ said one of the officials, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussionsâ€¦.
Two senior military officials said one set of options being developed by staff officers in Kabul involves three choices: the removal of almost no forces; the withdrawal of a few thousand support personnel, including headquarters staff, engineers and logisticians; and the pullout of a brigadeâ€™s worth of troops â€” about 5,000 personnelâ€” by culling a battalion of Marines in Helmand province that was added after the surge, a contingent of soldiers training Afghan security forces and an Army infantry battalion in either the countryâ€™s east or far west.
I donâ€™t blame Petraeus and other military leaders for trying to keep as much manpower as possible in Afghanistan. Theyâ€™ve fought hard and sacrificed a lot for whatever progress theyâ€™ve been able to make, and they naturally donâ€™t want to see it all evaporate.
But in the end, itâ€™s not their decision, and it shouldnâ€™t be. I donâ€™t know how much time is enough time, but I do know the tenth anniversary of our invasion of Afghanistan is coming up. I donâ€™t know how much money is enough money, but at this point itâ€™s costing us $120 billion a year. And I donâ€™t know how many American lives this is all worth, especially given the dismal performance of the Afghan government that weâ€™re trying to defend. But last year we lost 499 soldiers and Marines, in that cause, and another 73 have been killed so far this year, with the spring fighting season yet to begin.
Itâ€™s time to start drawing down. Itâ€™s time to start handing Afghanistanâ€™s fate back to its people.
â€“ Jay Bookman