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President Obama addressed the nation last night, about a war that has gone on for almost about a decade and will continue for years to come. The president called his order to start troop withdrawals the beginning, but not the end, of our effort to wind down this war. He says he will start by pulling out some of the extra troops he ordered into the country two years ago.
Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON: In an address from the East Room at the White House last night, the president said the troops could begin coming home because of the mission in Afghanistan was fulfilling its commitments, to degrade al-Qaida and reverse the military momentum of the Taliban. Indeed, as a top administration official said yesterday, there hasn't been a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan in seven or eight years.
President BARACK OBAMA: As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. And we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.
LIASSON: As proof of the progress in Afghanistan, President Obama pointed to his most dramatic national security achievement.
President OBAMA: We killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaida had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. The message, he said, is we don't forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.
LIASSON: The president needed to convince Americans that the war was winding down, but also why it was worth fighting for a while longer. So he described the mission's modest sounding objective.
President OBAMA: The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe-haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies. We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people.
LIASSON: The pace of the drawdown the president laid out was faster than the military wanted, but not fast enough for critics of the war - now a strange bedfellow alliance of the right and left. A new Pew poll showed that for the first time, a majority - 56 percent - say U.S. troops should be brought home as soon as possible. But that is not the same thing as saying pull out now.
And as pollster Andy Kohut explains, President Obama is bolstered by another finding in the poll. Despite what administration officials have called the fragile and reversible gains in Afghanistan, 58 percent believe the U.S. will succeed in achieving its goals.
Mr. ANDY KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): This is not Vietnam, where people were calling for a withdrawal because we did the wrong thing. A majority think the military situation is going well, and more people than a few months ago, think we're succeeding in achieving our goals.
LIASSON: The biggest change in public opinion, says Kohut, is among Republicans, who seem to be turning away from an assertive foreign policy.
Mr. KOHUT: This rise in Republican belief that we should get our troops out as soon as possible comes at very high rates from Republicans who agree with the Tea Party. It's increased 21 percentage points over the past year among Tea Party Republicans, so to speak, versus only eight points among Republicans who don't agree with the Tea Party.
LIASSON: The sheer cost of the wars, $10 billion a month for Afghanistan alone, is driving a lot of the opposition. And the president tried to show he shares that concern.
President OBAMA: Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource - our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.
LIASSON: Let us responsibly end these wars, President Obama said, and focus on nation building here at home. Those goals are widely shared by the public, which will now decide if the president is moving fast enough to reach them.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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