Obama lays out plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

BY ZACHARY POUND | JUNE 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Ten years after the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, President Obama said he feels “light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Obama outlined his plan to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by September 2012.

“We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength,” Obama said Wednesday night. “Al Qaeda is under more pressure than anytime since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of Al Qaeda’s leadership.”

In December 2009, during an address at West Point, the president announced he would send a “surge” of 33,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Senior administrative officials said the decision to remove troops came after the U.S. felt it had made progress in its initial objectives in Afghanistan.

Those goals included denying Al Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, reversing the Taliban’s momentum, and training Afghan security forces to defend their country.

Obama said 10,000 troops will be withdrawn by the end of this year, beginning in July. After September 2012, troops will continue to come home at a steady pace as Afghan forces take control, and the U.S. mission will change “from combat to support” by 2014, Obama said.

Randy Miller, a Vietnam veteran who works at the University of Iowa Veterans Center, said even though he believes “it is a good time to get out,” that there will be no clean exit.

“The situation that President Obama is in can be compared with the same challenges that Lyndon Johnson was facing when pulling troops out of Vietnam,” Miller said. “It’s hard to see any concrete progress that has been made due to the Taliban and the frequency of their attacks increasing during the summer months.”

Political-science Associate Professor Brian Lai said he believes GOP leaders will support this plan if military commanders such Gen. David Petraeus support the plan.

“The GOP candidates for 2012 are going to be split,” Lai said. “Those like Ron Paul or [Jon] Huntsman are likely to support this move but call for an even swifter decrease in troops.”

Lai said other candidates are likely to go along with the GOP congressional leaders and argue a drawdown should be based on the conditions in Afghanistan and the recommendations of military and civilian leaders.

But officials said this withdrawal will not create a national-security threat, because safe havens for Al Qaeda have moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan over the last 12 years.

“We haven’t seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years,” one senior administrative official said in a background conference call Wednesday. “There has clearly been fighting and threats inside of Afghanistan, but the assessment of anywhere between 50, 75 or so Qaeda types … are focused inside Afghanistan with no indication at all that there is any effort within Afghanistan to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to carry out attacks outside of Afghan borders.”

Lai said he thinks that the withdrawal will not have much of an effect on the relationships the United States has with countries in the Middle East.

“While many of them would like a lower US troop presence in the region, existing issues will continue to define U.S. relations with those countries,” Lai said. “U.S. relations with Iran will not change because of this drawdown of troops. Similarly, the situation in Libya will not be affected by this draw down.”

U.Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said he felt the president’s announcement was a first step, and he thinks our troops should be brought home as quickly as possible.

“We must ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, but I have long said that an open-ended commitment does not benefit our security,” Loebsack said in a statement. “As we focus on our economic recovery here at home and the global security threats that face our nation, it’s time for the Afghan people to take responsibility for their own country.”

In closing, Obama emphasized it is time for the country to focus not on building up other nations, but on nation-building at home.

“Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times,” he said. “Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource — our people.”

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