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Obama details plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan

President Obama announced that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will begin with 10,000 troops this year, plus another 23,000 by the end of next summer. Gains have been made against the Taliban, he said, but the fight against al Qaeda will continue wherever necessary.

By Staff Writer / June 22, 2011

President Barack Obama delivers a televised address from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 22, 2011 on his plan to drawdown U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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President Obama’s plan for a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan – set to begin in a matter of weeks – is more than military leaders advised, but less than growing numbers of Americans want.

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The broad outline: Of the roughly 100,000 US forces in Afghanistan today, 5,000 would begin coming out this summer, followed by another 5,000 by the end of the year. By the end of next summer, another 23,000 would return to bases in Europe and the United States – in essence a total drawdown of the 33,000-troop “surge” ordered by Obama in 2009.

“We are meeting our goals…. We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength,” Mr. Obama said. “Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.”

Officials say Obama is not simply splitting the difference between the recommendation of military leaders (including Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan recently named as CIA director) and the faster withdrawal favored by many in Congress as well as the public.

They’re careful not to present this as a “mission accomplished” moment. But in a background briefing shortly before Obama’s speech Wednesday evening, senior administration officials pointed to “substantial progress” in the goals set under the surge:

Safe havens for the Taliban – which had been expanding when Obama took office – have been degraded if not eliminated to the point where recruiting has become a problem for the Taliban. This has helped essentially eliminate Afghanistan as a source of transnational terrorist threats by al Qaeda.

“We haven’t seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years,” a senior administration official said in Wednesday’s briefing.

Meanwhile, many in al Qaeda’s core leadership have been killed or captured – including most prominently Osama bin Laden.

“We have taken a significant number of key senior leaders off of the battlefield – in addition to bin Laden, individuals like Saeed al-Masri and others who have been critical to al Qaeda’s operational and organizational capabilities over the last dozen years,” said the senior official. “This has had an impact on their operational capabilities.”

With the Taliban under attack by US-led forces and safe havens degraded or eliminated, plus better training levels among Afghan security forces, officials say, this has meant more opportunities to seek reconciliation with the Taliban.

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