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President Obama's Afghanistan withdrawal announcement Wednesday night opened the door for European countries involved in the war to announce their own withdrawal plans. The prospect of drawdown is likely to be popular in Europe, but like US military officials, some European officials expressed concern that the withdrawal is coming too soon.
Ten thousand US soldiers will be pulled out by the end of 2011. Another 20,000 or so will come home by summer 2012 and the remaining troops – about 100,000 – will be drawn down steadily until full responsibility is handed over to Afghanistan in 2014.
Britain, the second largest contributor to NATO forces, previously pledged to withdraw its 10,000 troops by 2015. After Mr. Obama's announcement, Prime Minister David Cameron would only say that Britain would keep its troop levels "under constant review" and that he would withdraw some of them earlier than 2015 if circumstances allowed, The Guardian reported.
British Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Sir David Richards said that Afghanistan's insurgency is under "real and sustained pressure" and that he supported Obama's plans for withdrawal.
"Their momentum has been halted and in some areas reversed. This summer will see the continuation of this process with Afghan forces beginning to take the lead for security in a number of areas including Lashkar Gah, the headquarters for British forces.
"The Afghan army and police are increasingly able to plan, direct and execute operations to provide security for their own people. But our collective military efforts need to continue until Afghan security forces are able to assume responsibility for security across Afghanistan by the end of 2014."
"At the end of the day, Afghanistan is where the Afghans live. It is their country and the political solution has got to be Afghan-delivered and Afghan-led. We have given them the change it is up to them to take it," he said, according to the Guardian.
Soon after Obama's announcement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that France's 4,000 troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn at a rate proportional to the US withdrawal, BBC reported. Germany, too, will begin a phased withdrawal of its 4,900 troops in the country, making its first reduction by the end of 2011, Al Jazeera reported. "The prospect of withdrawal is now becoming concrete," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in statement.
In Afghanistan, local leaders said that they worried the US was repeating the mistakes it made following the proxy war with the Soviets in the 1980s: bailing out before the country had a stable government. The American departure could give Pakistan's intelligence agency a window for exerting its influence across the border, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"Twenty years ago, they left Afghanistan after the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan and Afghanistan was controlled by the ISI," said Ghulam Haider Hamidi, mayor of Kandahar city. "We don't want to go back 20 years when they were making the decisions about Afghanistan."
But Afghan government representatives were more supportive. President Hamid Karzai said it was an important step in the process of "liberty for Afghanistan." His deputy national security adviser said, "It is time to shift from a military solution to a political solution."
"The Taliban will consider this as softness from Americans," said Mr. Zaeef. "This is the culture of Afghans. If somebody goes hard with Afghans they go hard, but if somebody goes soft they go soft with them. [The] Taliban will also show some softness."