Afghan Pullout Criticized on Both Sides

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Afghan Pullout Criticized on Both Sides

Post by JonlyBonly on Thu Jun 23, 2011 7:43 pm

Afghan Pullout Criticized on Both Sides

By AP / MATTHEW LEE and ROBERT BURNS Thursday, June 23, 2011

(WASHINGTON) — The nation's top military officer and its top diplomat made clear Thursday that President Barack Obama rejected the advice of his generals in choosing a quicker path to winding down the war in Afghanistan.

The Obama troop withdrawal plan, widely interpreted as marking the beginning of the end of the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, drew criticism from both sides of the political aisle on Capitol Hill. Some Republicans decried it as undercutting the military mission at a critical stage of the war, while many Democrats called it too timid. (See TIME's video: "A New Season of Fighting in Afghanistan")

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took a swipe at Obama from the Senate floor, questioning the timing of his troop pullout plan. "Just when they are one year away from turning over a battered and broken enemy in both southern and eastern Afghanistan to our Afghan partners — the president has now decided to deny them the forces that our commanders believe they need to accomplish their objective," McCain said.

Obama announced Wednesday night that he will pull 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by December and another 23,000 by the end of next summer. On Thursday, the president spoke at New York's Fort Drum to troops and commanders of the Army's 10th Mountain Division. Its headquarters staff is in southern Afghanistan and its soldiers have been among the most frequently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

Obama, perhaps responding to the flank of criticism from the right, said that he is not pulling home troops "precipitously" or risking the gain they've achieved. It was because of the work of the military, he said, that the Taliban is now open to potential reconciliation.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee that he supports the plan, although he had recommended a less aggressive drawdown schedule.

Obama's approach adds risk to the military mission, Mullen said. But he added, "It's manageable risk."

Obama's plan will leave 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the drawdown. Most of those troops would gradually come home over the next two years, and the U.S. plans to close out its combat role in Afghanistan by 2015. (See TIME's photoessay: "Battle in Kandahar")

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tacitly acknowledged the military had wanted more troops to remain for a longer period of time. And she said the keys to finally ending the conflict will be political negotiations with the Taliban leadership and managing a highly contentious relationship with Pakistan.

Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that prospects for successful peace talks with the Taliban are unclear. She said the U.S. was involved in "very preliminary" contacts with the Taliban, which she said has only recently shown signs that it may be ready to talk about a political settlement.

Such contacts with enemies are distasteful but worthwhile, she said, given the historical fact that few insurgencies have been defeated without a combination of military pressure and negotiation. "This is not a pleasant business, but a necessary one," she said.

Clinton added that she was hopeful about a political settlement. Still, she said, "We're a long way from knowing what the realistic elements of such an agreement would be."

Military commanders favored a withdrawal plan that would allow them to keep as many of the 33,000 surge troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible, ideally through the end of 2012. Even with their full removal by September 2012, there will be about 68,000 troops remaining. That is twice as many as were there when Obama took office in January 2009.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

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