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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Military Draws Up Afghan Exit Plan: Only 5,000 of 100,000 to leave! We want only 5,000 to stay.

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have drawn up preliminary proposals to withdraw as many as 5,000 troops from the country in July and as many as 5,000 more by the year's end, the first phase of a U.S. pullout promised by President Barack Obama, officials say.

The proposals, prepared by staff officers in Kabul, are likely to be the subject of fierce internal debate in the White House, State Department and Pentagon—a discussion influenced by calculations about how Osama bin Laden's death will affect the Afghan battlefield.

The plans were drafted before the U.S. killed the al Qaeda leader, and could be revised. They have yet to be formally presented to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who must then seek White House approval for a withdrawal.

If approved by top military officers and the president, an initial withdrawal of 5,000 would represent a modest reduction from the current 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, allowing the military to preserve combat power through this summer's fighting season. Some of the troops that leave in July will be combat troops but commanders hope to minimize the impact by culling support staff as well.

In addition to U.S. forces, there are more than 40,000 international troops in Afghanistan, some of whom could also begin pulling out this summer, officials said.

Mr. Obama set the July deadline in December 2009 as he announced the surge of an additional 30,000 forces, in an effort to reassure Democrats skeptical of the war that even as he was building up troops in Afghanistan he wasn't signing off on an endless conflict.

Military officials believe the White House doesn't want a precipitous drawdown that would undercut U.S. gains in southern Afghanistan, a traditional stronghold of the Taliban, whose top leadership in Pakistan have had longstanding ties to bin Laden and his terror organization.

Mr. Obama's promise of a "significant" withdrawal from Afghanistan has fueled tensions between the White House and the Pentagon. Though military officials worry a rapid withdrawal of forces could undercut hard-won battlefield gains, they don't want to be seen as pushing their agenda on the civilian leadership. White House officials, in turn, are wary of what they see as lobbying efforts by military commanders.

Mr. Obama, bolstered by the bin Laden raid, may have won political latitude to keep more forces on the ground. Likewise, they said, lawmakers who favor sweeping troop reductions may be less likely to challenge the president.

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