Joe Garofoli / San Francisco Chronicle – 2011-06-19 00:43:15
SAN FRANCISCO (June 18, 2011) — As the White House weighs how quickly to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting next month, two of President Obama’s top liberal California supporters want up to half of the US force out by the end of the year.
On Friday, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer called for 30,000 US troops to come home by the end of the year, while Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also called for the quick withdrawal of 50,000 — roughly half of the force in Afghanistan.
As the 2012 presidential campaign begins to take shape, their move puts Obama politically between his liberal base on one side and some of his top military advisers, who want to keep a larger force in the region, on the other.
Obama has said the United States plans to begin withdrawing troops in July, en route to pulling all combat forces out of Afghanistan by 2014.
But public opinion toward US policy in Afghanistan has been changing since American forces killed Osama bin Laden in May. And with the country set to spend $119 billion on the war this year, there is increasing bipartisan pressure to accelerate the withdrawal to ease pressure on the federal budget.
Obama has given little indication of how quickly he wants to withdraw the troops.
What I’ve said is this summer is a summer of transition where we start handing over more responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to the Afghan government,” Obama said in an interview with Hearst TV earlier this month. “I intend to follow through on that commitment that I made to the American people.”
Reversing the Surge
Boxer prodded Obama to quicken his timeline in a speech Friday at the San Francisco World Affairs Council.
Boxer said withdrawing the “second surge” of 30,000 troops Obama sent to Afghanistan last year “would fulfill President Obama’s promise that this surge would be temporary, while also signaling to the American people that we are serious about bringing this decade-long war to an end.”
Boxer, who sits on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that after the first substantial drawdown, the United States should shift to “a different mission focused on targeted counterterrorism operations, the protection of American coalition personnel and the continued training of Afghan security forces.”
Boxer said 10,000 to 25,000 troops would be “adequate” to fulfill that new mission.
Lee wants a larger pullout, saying, “A modest reduction of 30,000 troops should not be considered significant, since it would merely return us to 2009 and pre-escalation troop levels.”
That would require a change of strategy, said one Afghanistan expert.
A 30,000- to 50,000-troop withdrawal “would require a fundamental change in the strategy and would in many ways discard the progress of the strategy until now,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of its Afghanistan Index.
“There’s no way you could pull 30,000 troops out and sustain the holding operations in places like Kandahar,” O’Hanlon said Friday. “We shouldn’t have any illusions about what that would bring.”
Another complication is that “the Afghan forces simply won’t be ready” to take over from departing US troops, said Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“They’re on an extraordinarily accelerated schedule as it stands,” said Cordesman, who assisted Gen. Stanley McChrystal in developing a new strategy for Afghanistan in 2009.
“The problem is, do you want to have any kind of credible success in Afghanistan, or do you want to have a very rapid withdrawal,” Cordesman said. “This debate from the start has focused on round numbers in terms of troops, not in whether the overall campaign is working.”
Over the past decade, 1,610 US service personnel have been killed and more than 12,000 wounded in the war.
(c) 2011 Hearst Communications Inc. |