U.S. Tweaks Message on Troops in Afghanistan; 'Not really any change; just trying to get past that July 2011 obsession.' - Sure, whatever you say.
The Obama administration is increasingly emphasizing the idea that the United States will have forces in Afghanistan until at least the end of 2014, a change in tone aimed at persuading the Afghans and the Taliban that there will be no significant American troop withdrawals next summer.
In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.
“There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,” a senior administration official said Wednesday.
Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.
On Wednesday, the White House insisted that there had been no change in tone. “The old message was, we’re looking to July 2011 to begin a transition,” a White House official said. “Now we’re telling people what happens beyond 2011, and I don’t think that represents a shift. We’re bringing some clarity to the policy of our future in Afghanistan.”
Like most people involved in the issue, the official asked for anonymity because a review of Mr. Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan is under way and people involved in it are reluctant to speak openly to reporters.