Obama Orders Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

by
June 23, 2011

By  and , The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama declared Wednesday that the United States had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, setting in motion a timetable for the rapid withdrawal of American troops in an acknowledgement of the shifting threat in the region and fast-changing political and economic landscape in a war-weary America.

Asserting that the country that served as a launching pad for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States, Mr. Obama declared that the “tide of war is receding.” And in a blunt acknowledgment of domestic economic strains, he said, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”

Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the troop reductions would continue “at a steady pace,” bringing to an end America’s longest war — a conflict that has cost 1,500 American lives.

The troop reductions, which came after a short but fierce internal debate, are both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders, and they come as the president faces relentless budget pressures, an increasingly restive Congress and American public and a re-election campaign next year.

The withdrawals would mark the start of a winding down of the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, which Mr. Obama adopted 18 months ago. Most American forces are expected to leave Afghanistan by 2014. Administration officials indicated that they now planned to place more emphasis on smaller, focused counterterrorism operations of the kind that killed Osama bin Laden, which the president cited as Exhibit A in the case for a substantial American troop reduction.

“We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength,” Mr. Obama said in somber, 12-minute address delivered from the East Room of the White House. “Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.” He said that an intense campaign of drone strikes and other covert operations in Pakistan had crippled Al Qaeda’s original network in the region, leaving its leaders either dead or pinned down in the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of 30 top Qaeda leaders identified by American intelligence, 20 have been killed in the last year and a half, administration officials said.

But the withdrawal of the entire surge force by the end of next summer will significantly change the way that the United States wages war in Afghanistan, analysts said, suggesting that the administration may have concluded it can no longer achieve its loftiest ambitions there.

Mr. Obama acknowledged as much in his remarks. “We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place,” he said. “We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government.”

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/world/asia/23prexy.html?_r=1

 

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