Speedier Troop Decrease Urged in Afghanistan
Policy + Politics

Speedier Troop Decrease Urged in Afghanistan

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are applying fresh pressure on the Obama administration to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan faster than many military leaders say is responsible, forcing the president to balance his party’s demands with his generals’ on-the-ground assessment as he nears another milestone in the war.

When he announced his war strategy 18 months ago, President Obama set July as the point when he would begin bringing home the approximately 100,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan. Administration officials have portrayed the reduction as just another planned step in the president’s strategy.

But Sen. John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is among a growing number of congressional leaders urging Obama to take full advantage of progress achieved over the past 18 months by narrowing the mission’s focus.

These lawmakers argue that, at a time of fiscal stress at home, the administration should concentrate on targeting al-Qaeda and protecting other U.S. security interests in the region, rather than on maintaining the broad military deployments across much of southern and eastern Afghanistan and the costly nation-building elements of the counter-insurgency strategy.

This political push could force the White House to revisit a contentious internal debate that unfolded in fall 2009, when Obama’s civilian advisers challenged the uniformed military over how best to change the course of a flagging war effort. But Obama is now making his decision amid a difficult reelection effort and when the killing of Osama bin Laden has made some lawmakers argue that the time is ripe to dramatically scale back the U.S. war effort.

“The president ought to take advantage of that success and push us in a direction that accelerates the ability of the Afghans” to take over operations, said Kerry (D-Mass.).

Obama is awaiting a set of recommendations from his military commanders on how many troops to bring home in July and the pace of withdrawal over the months ahead. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who on Friday concluded an 11-day trip that took him to Afghanistan, could deliver Gen. David H. Petraeus’s proposed options to Obama in the next week.

“The president obviously is very mindful of how we use our resources and setting priorities for how we use our resources,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday. “The fact is that we believe we are making progress. . . . And when he announces the decision he makes in terms of the drawdown, I’m sure he will also put it in the context of the implementation of the strategy he put in place in December 2009.”

That month Obama announced his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, largely adopting a surge strategy recommended by the military leadership.

For his civilian advisers worried about the scope of the escalation, Obama also set next month as the beginning of the end of the surge. As that deadline approaches, the argument over how quickly or slowly to leave a nearly decade-old war is intensifying.

When he adopted the strategy in 2009, Obama was a relatively new commander in chief still working out his relationship with his commanders. Obama has more experience as a wartime leader today, and his risky decision to authorize the raid deep inside Pakistan that killed bin Laden last month has burnished his reputation as a president who has faith in his military. Outside analysts say he may feel more able to turn down his generals’ advice.

Read more at The Washington Post.