Obama To Discuss Pulling Out Troops In Afghanistan

Later Wednesday evening, President Obama will address the nation to discuss his plan for bringing home troops from Afghanistan. Robert Siegel speaks with NPR's Mara Liasson for more.



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Tonight, President Obama will describe to the nation how he plans to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful close. He's following up on a pledge that he made in December of 2009, when he announced a surge of 30,000 troops to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban.

President BARACK OBAMA: These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

SIEGEL: When the president speaks from the Oval Office tonight, he will tell a war-weary country just how and how many troops will begin coming home next month.

We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. And Mara, what is the significance of the speech tonight and what are we likely to hear in it?

MARA LIASSON: Well, Robert, first and foremost, the significance is that he's going to make good on that promise that you just heard him make. He said that in July of this year, based on conditions, the surge would start coming home and they will. I think he'll also talk a little bit about Osama bin Laden's death as a sign that the goal of dismantling and disrupting al-Qaida is making progress. One of the other goals was reversing the military momentum of the Taliban, not necessarily defeating them. But he'll talk about how that's making progress, too.

So I think this is a speech to talk about how the war in Afghanistan is winding down, but also why it's worth fighting a little longer.

SIEGEL: Now, we've watched President Obama go through this kind of decision-making process before. I want you to describe what the competing interests were that he had to balance this time around to arrive at this speech.

LIASSON: Well, the military wanted the drawdown to be as slow as possible, but if, as we expect him to do, he says that he's pulling out about 5,000 troops now, maybe close to 10 by the end of the year, then the rest of the surge coming out sometime late in 2012, that will probably be a little bit faster than the generals wanted. There still will be about 70,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, even after 2012.

But once again, as he did with the surge decision itself, he decided not to go all the way to a very light footprint just focused on counterterrorism, as some in his administration had argued for, but he did have to weigh the need to succeed in Afghanistan. He can't just pull out and have it all fall apart, at the same time that he's aware there is war weariness in the country and in general, in Congress, there's a lot of fiscal pressure. This war costs $10 billion a month.

SIEGEL: Yes. You've described what the generals would like to see. What kind of pushback is he likely to get from Democrats and Republicans in Congress?

LIASSON: Well, I think many Democrats are gonna say this drawdown is not enough. Carl Levin, who's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, wanted 15,000 troops out right away. But the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said as long as the military is okay with this pace of withdrawal he will support it.

It's been interesting. The president has even gotten some pushback from Republicans who - the Republican party is going through a sea change of sorts. They think - many of them think the war is too expensive. Some of the leading Republican candidates for president want the troops to come home sooner. What he's not getting, interestingly enough, is what he's gotten in the past, which is pushback from Republicans who think he's not pursuing this war vigorously enough.

SIEGEL: Mara, though, we use the phrase war-weary public commonly now. What kind of data is there to back up the idea that the country is weary of the war in Afghanistan?

LIASSON: Well, there are a lot of polls, including a new one from the Pew Research Center, which says that 56 percent - this is the first time a majority of Americans had said that U.S. troops should be brought home as soon as possible. They're not saying, pull out now, but they're saying as soon as possible. They want this war to be over.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.