American troops will come home from Afghanistan at 'a steady pace,' President Obama tells nation
BY Joseph Straw and Thomas M. Defrank
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Thursday, June 23rd 2011
WASHINGTON - President Obama's long-awaited drawdown in Afghanistan will begin next month as promised - but on an accelerated timetable, he told the nation Wednesday night.
Beset by eroding public support for the war and a debt crisis that threaten his reelection prospects, Obama is ordering home 10,000 troops by the end of the year and an additional 23,000 by the end of next summer.
"After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace," Obama pledged in a 13-minute speech from the White House East Room.
"America," he added, "it is time to focus on nation building here at home."
Obama said the success of U.S. military operations and the killing of Osama Bin Laden last month have severely damaged AlQaeda terrorists and made it possible for a more robust withdrawal.
"The tide of war is receding," Obama said. "This is the beginning - but not the end - of our effort to wind down this war."
The pullback will bring home the troops Obama sent to Afghanistan in December 2009, leaving about 68,000 - who will also be gone by 2014.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, preferred leaving more troops in the combat zone until next year.
Aides say Obama has always been skeptical of generals who want more of everything, but his decision reflects domestic political realities as well as the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
"He has to placate the [Democratic] left while winning back the middle," a Democratic ally said, referring to the growing political opposition - even by some Republican war hawks - to the Afghan campaign.
Even a usually stalwart Democrat, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, pronounced Obama's plan "disappointing" and "not good enough."
"It is time to shift course in Afghanistan to a counterterrorism mission, with an aggressive drawdown of combat troops," she added.
But Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) called the time frame "too much, too fast."
"We've made extraordinary gains in Afghanistan and we run the risk of losing those gains by pulling out too fast," King said. "We should be listening to Gen. Petraeus, not giving in to political concerns."