Obama To Announce Afghanistan Withdraw Plans

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President Obama prepares to announce a decision on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama will speak to the nation tomorrow night about his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The White House scheduled the address for 8 p.m. Eastern in hopes of attracting a large audience.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the speech comes as Americans are growing anxious for a quick withdrawal.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The White House says Mr. Obama is making good on a promise he made 18 months ago, when he ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. At the time, he said those troops would begin coming home midway through 2011, but the White House has not said how many troops would withdraw or how quickly.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says it was only today that Mr. Obama shared his decision with top advisors.

Mr. JAY CARNEY (Press Secretary, White House): There's been a lot of speculation. And every story has a different answer on what he's going to announce that the stories you're reading are speculation and that the president's decision will be known when he announces it.

HORSLEY: Carney says the long-planned troop withdrawal does not signal any change in U.S. strategy. But some lawmakers think a new strategy is exactly what's called for, especially after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Defeating al-Qaida and denying terrorists a safe haven has long been the president's goal in Afghanistan. Last week, 27 Senators wrote the president, saying the time had come for a sizeable and sustained reduction in U.S. forces there. One of the senators was Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Senator ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): In finding bin Laden and bringing him to justice, we have struck a serious blow to al-Qaida's network that permits us to now reconsider our mission and the wisdom of pursuing a broad and open-ended strategy of nation-building in Afghanistan.

HORSLEY: Michigan Senator Carl Levin, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the president to withdraw at least 15,000 troops by the end of this year.

Military advisers want a much smaller drawdown. Defense analyst Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says the more troops that pullout now, the greater the risk that gains on the ground will be reversed.

Dr. MICHAEL O'HANLON (Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution): I don't think the president is going to want to essentially surrender back to the Taliban any of the territory that his strategy has succeeded in liberating and stabilizing or at least beginning to stabilize.

HORSLEY: But Americans' patience is wearing thin as the war nears the 10-year mark. A survey released today by the Pew Research Center finds for the first time a majority of Americans want troops brought home as soon as possible rather than waiting for the situation to stabilize.

Military analyst Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations says no president can ignore public opinion, but he thinks Mr. Obama still has room to maneuver.

Dr. STEPHEN BIDDLE (Senior Fellow, Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations): Public preference has been trending against the war for a long time, but this is not an issue where there are demonstrations taking place in front of congressmen's district offices. In general, Afghanistan is being crowded out of the public square by other issues and especially the economy.

HORSLEY: Still, lawmakers are looking for ways to cut the deficit, and withdrawing troops would save money.

Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments says every service member in Afghanistan costs the government more than a million dollars a year.

Mr. TODD HARRISON (Analyst, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments): This is logistically probably the second most difficult place to operate in the world, second only to Antarctica.

HORSLEY: The president's 2012 budget proposal assumes a withdrawal of about 4,000 troops this year. Harrison says that would save the government about $7 billion.

Mr. HARRISON: You're not going to balance the federal budget just by drawing down troops faster in Afghanistan. It could be part of the effort to reduce overall government spending, but it certainly can't be the only part of that effort.

HORSLEY: In fact, for every dollar the U.S. spends on defense, the war in Afghanistan represents only about 17 cents. And some form of spending in that country will continue even after the bulk of U.S. combat troops come home.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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