December 6th, 2009
12:30 PM ET
7 months ago

Obama aides fine-tune meaning of Afghan withdrawal date


(CNN) - Top aides to President Barack Obama on Sunday signaled that some U.S. troops could start coming home from Afghanistan as soon as July 2011, but most would likely remain there for several years.

In appearances on all the major talk shows, Cabinet officials and military advisers clarified the president's position after he walked a political tight-rope by announcing he will send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and that some will start coming home in 19 months.

National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones told CNN's "State of the Union" that the July 2011 start of withdrawal was "not a cliff, it's a ramp" for beginning to turn over security responsibility to Afghan forces.

Noting the U.S. strategic interests in the region, including nuclear power Pakistan next door, Jones said: "We're going to be in the region for a long time."

Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, said on "FOX News Sunday" that Obama's strategy "doesn't trigger a rush to the exits," while Defense Secretary Robert Gates told CBS' "Face the Nation" that "there isn't a deadline."

"What we have is a specific date on which we will begin transferring responsibility for security district by district, province by province in Afghanistan to the Afghans," Gates said.

The challenge has been to meet the need cited by military leaders for more troops and resources to wipe out terrorist networks in Afghanistan and help the Afghan government overcome the Taliban insurgency while satisfying the Democratic Party's liberal base, which opposes the deployment of more troops.

Gates explained the rationale for sending more forces on ABC's "This Week," saying the Afghan-Pakistani border is "the epicenter of extremist jihad."

"And al Qaeda has close relationships with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and they have very close relationships with the Taliban in Pakistan," Gates continued. "The Taliban in Pakistan have been attacking Pakistani civilians, Pakistani government officials, military officials, trying to destabilize the government of Pakistan."

Any success by the Taliban in either Afghanistan or Pakistan benefits al Qaeda, Gates said, adding that "any safe haven on either side of the border creates opportunities for them to recruit, get new funds and do operational planning."

"And what's more, the Taliban revival in the safe havens in western Pakistan is a lesson to al Qaeda that they can come back, if they are provided the kind of safe haven that the Taliban were," Gates said.

In addition, Gates warned on NBC's "Meet the Press" that U.S. casualties "will probably continue to grow" as troops take on Taliban strongholds. However, Gates rejected a comparison to the Soviet Union decision in 1985 to send more troops to bolster its occupation of Afghanistan, which ended in failure less than two years later.

"The parallel just doesn't work," Gates said. "The reality is the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They killed a million Afghans. They made 5 million refugees out of Afghanis."

In addition, he said, the Soviets acted unilaterally, while the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan involves 42 countries with a mandate from NATO.

In Congress, Republicans generally backed Obama's deployment plan but complained that announcing the start of a withdrawal signaled a compromised commitment to the enemy.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate last year, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that a strategy must be flexible to succeed, rather than limited by a set timetable.

On "FOX News Sunday," Sen. Dick Durbin, the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, called the July 2011 start of a withdrawal a necessary signal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

According to Durbin, Obama's message to Karzai was: "We're not going to make Afghanistan a protectorate of the United States. You have to change your government. You have to show that you are willing to stand up and fight for your own country."

"I think that message is long overdue," Durbin said.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Obama administration
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Bill of Florida

    I suppose that even if this troop surge is responsible for capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, that the rightwingers will take credit for it and say that they had to force Barack Obama to do it. Give me a break! Barack Obama is doing the right things for this country. The time it will take to turn this country from the mire of the previous administration is a testament to the terrible policies of the right. The current President's policies are beginning to have a positive effect. Barack Obama is a great president. We will all know this in time.

    December 6, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. Lynne

    This whole media and Republican driven nonsense of aides having to "fine tune" the President's timetable is media driven .

    The President used "BEGIN to draw down" and "conditions based" in his speech but the media in its rush to judgment to criticize the contents of the speech immediately after it was given, chose to ignore the caveats the President placed in his speech.

    December 6, 2009 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  3. James, Ho. TX

    Obama's message to Afghans Karzai should be : we'll be bringing our G.I. Troops Home because they're being used to keep "You" from protecting you own Ass. Either that or Me,Obama, and my Top Aides will come over and replace the G.I. Kids being sent Home !

    December 6, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    To disagree wtih President Obama's exit plan is to agree with Karzai who prefers Bush's plan and that is to stay and pay forever.

    December 6, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  5. Keith in Austin

    Timelines on withdrawal send a clear message to the Taliban. Withdrawal Timelines also appease the left-wing pacifists. Obama's teleprompter aided speech this week was orchestrated to maintain his political base and NOT a commitment to WIN! Why be in a war without the true will to win? A question Barry Obozo needs to ask himself for sure!

    December 6, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  6. Tom

    As I expected, it took less than a week for Karzai to begin to try to soften the withdrawl timeline. He wants Americans to be patient and let him and his corrupt family squire away more billions of our dollars way beyond 2011.

    Fact is, the US front lines in the fight against terrorists isn't in Afganistan. It's right here in the USA with heavily armed gangs raking in millions of dollars in drug money.

    December 6, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  7. JonDie

    Karzai is a LOST cause thanks to Bush and Cheney. We need to be thinking about getting out NOW. We can fight the Taliban better from outside Afghanistan's borders than from inside.

    December 6, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  8. Independant Vet

    In prior wars , I do not recall , anyone saying they are going to cut back on a given date.
    Obama will never learn , there is a time , to JUST Shut up. By Now anything can come to happen , I still say , Times I wish I were a dog and he was atree.

    December 6, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  9. La Chatte

    Announce the troop increase, set an end date, then get around to figuring out the details of the plan?????

    December 6, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |