President Barack Obama will use a prime time speech late on Wednesday to order a US troop drawdown from Afghanistan, which one official said would likely see 10,000 soldiers back in America this year.
The White House address may also come to be seen as the moment when the United States began to disengage from Afghanistan, after a bloody and sometimes inconsistently waged decade-long war and nation-building effort.
Obama will stick with his vow to begin pulling out US forces after an 18-month troop surge, but apparently heed Pentagon warnings that an overly swift withdrawal could imperil hard-won gains against Taliban insurgents.A senior defence official said on condition of anonymity that the president would "likely" order the return of about 5,000 troops this summer and 5,000 more by the end of the year.
Another 20,000 troops, part of a 30,000-strong surge ordered in December 2009, would be withdrawn by the end of next year, meaning elevated force levels would remain through two more Afghan summer fighting seasons. The figure of 10,000 troops to be pulled out, if confirmed, appears higher than the “modest” initial homecoming the Pentagon had originally advocated, as Obama walks a delicate line between political and strategic logic.
The president’s broadcast at 8:00pm (0000 GMT) comes as attitudes shift on the war following the killing of Osama bin Laden, other heavy blows against al Qaeda and the waning of US public support for the conflict.
“The president will address the nation from the White House to lay out his plan for implementing his strategy — first unveiled in December 2009 — to draw down American troops from Afghanistan,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said.
War skeptics argue that after the deaths of more than 1,600 US service personnel and at a cost of nearly $10 billion a month, the American commitment is unsustainable at its present size of 99,000 US troops.Carney branded a flurry of media reports on the size of the drawdown as mere speculation and refused to divulge details of the president’s decision, which was finalized earlier Tuesday.
Obama promised Americans when he unveiled the surge that he would begin to bring soldiers home in July 2011 — a vow critics panned as offering succor to US enemies. afp