Obama To Unveil Troop Drawdown In Afghanistan

Jun 22, 2011
Originally published on June 22, 2011 6:53 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And we begin our coverage with NPR's Tamara Keith who's in our studios. Tamara, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Starting with the numbers, what are the range of choices the president has?

KEITH: Well, first we should note that we're talking about a drawdown of the surge troops. So that 18 months ago, he sent 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Now it's time for him to begin bringing them home. And reports on this vary. But what we're hearing is something in the range of five to 10,000 troops coming home soon. And then a longer term reduction, by perhaps the end of next year, of the remainder of those 30,000 surge troops.

INSKEEP: Okay. So maybe a two-phase or several phase withdrawl here. And at the end, most of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan will still be in Afghanistan. Is that right?

KEITH: And Stephen Biddle, at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the Taliban will be watching, too.

STEPHEN BIDDLE: He's trying to convey to the Taliban the message that we are not heading for the exit, and therefore you guys really ought to make some concessions 'cause that's the only way you're going to get a shorter war.

KEITH: So the president has a lot of people to persuade or disappoint.

INSKEEP: Which may be is part of the reason you're telling us he may give us several numbers in several different areas, several different parts of time - several different periods of time.

KEITH: And I called up Michael O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institution. He put it this way.

MICHAEL O: From all we hear, the most radical thing the administration would do, perhaps, is pull 15,000 forces out this year and another 20,000 out next year, leaving 65,000 American troops, even at the end of that two-year process.

KEITH: And when President Obama took office, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Today there are 99,000 plus NATO troops.

INSKEEP: Tell me how this ends.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEITH: You know, U.S. troops in the last 18 months have been working very hard to build up Afghan police and security forces, also trying to pushback the Taliban. So the idea, the strategy for the last couple of years, has been, by the end 2014 - still three years away - the U.S. will hopefully be able to hand over operations to those Afghan forces.

INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks very much.

KEITH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR'S Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.