Mixed messages from Obama, Petraeus on Afghanistan pullout
President Obama has called for an Afghanistan exit strategy with no 'wiggle room' and a July 2011 troop withdrawal. General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has been less firm on the date.
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“There was not,” Petraeus said. Senator McCain continued, “There was not – by any military person that you know of?”Skip to next paragraph
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“Not that I’m aware of,” Petraeus answered.
This exchange was remarkably similar to a back-and-forth between Petraeus and McCain in congressional testimony earlier this month.
Gen. Petraeus also seemed to highlight the political nature of the decision. “The president has to be interested in fiscal considerations, political considerations, diplomatic considerations,” Petraeus noted at the June hearing, appearing to emphasize that he was more good soldier than avid supporter of the plan. “I don’t find it unusual to have, again, something inserted that was not from the bottom up.”
President Obama has seemed to bow to growing pressure from his military advisors and GOP critics who contend that a firm withdrawal date emboldens America’s enemies in Afghanistan. "We did not say starting in July 2011 suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan," Obama said in a June 24 press conference. “We said we'd begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility."
Petraeus, for his part, said in his June testimony that though he agrees with July, 2011 as a date in which to begin assessing the transition, US troops will be needed in Afghanistan for “quite some time.”
Back in Afghanistan, US troops are taking the cue. “No one said that we are withdrawing in July 2011,” Col. Mulholland told reporters. “I stated that there won’t be any withdrawal in July 2011 – that General Petraeus has stated that that is the mark to start talking and planning about transition. So there is no – not going to be a withdrawal in July 2011.”
In response to perplexed Pentagon reporters who pointed out that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that there would be withdrawal of some American troops by July, 2011, Mulholland remained firm.
“What Secretary Gates said I can’t comment on. All I know is what our commander said… and I think in General Petraeus’ mind it’s – July, 2011 is a mark to start planning about withdrawal,” Mulholland said. “It doesn’t mean that troops will start moving in July, 2011. That’s how I read it.”