THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Afghan drawdown to be ‘significant’

Military aides urge caution

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates signed a banner at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika Province yesterday. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates signed a banner at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika Province yesterday. (Jason Reed/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Ben Feller
Associated Press / June 7, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The White House said yesterday that President Obama will make more than a token withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan starting in July, but said no decision was imminent on how many troops would come home or how fast.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney described Obama’s upcoming decision as important but narrow — a long-promised withdrawal in July based on local conditions, but not a reopening of the war strategy that Obama announced in December 2009 and affirmed last winter. “There is not an enormous debate about this,’’ Carney told reporters.

Obama is under pressure on the issue as public support for the Afghan war remains low and congressional pressure for a faster exit mounts, but defense officials are urging him not to pull troops home quickly for risk of undermining tenuous security gains or influencing allies to remove their own troops with haste.

The president pledged to begin a July 2011 withdrawal when he ordered in 30,000 more troops in December 2009. Plans call for all foreign combat troops to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“There have been no decisions made,’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said about the pace of the Afghanistan troop drawdown, speaking at a news conference yesterday with visiting French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe at the State Department.

Obama is awaiting recommendations from his military commanders about how to put in place the July directive. Carney said it will include options but he would not get specific.

The president and his war advisers met for two hours yesterday to review the long, costly war launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. The killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in an American raid in Pakistan last month has hastened calls by many in Congress to bring an end to the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates took part in Obama’s security meeting by video feed from Afghanistan, where over the weekend he said that a “modest’’ drawdown in July seemed advised, based on the improving capacity of Afghan forces to defend their own country.

The president, however, is on record as saying the drawdown in July will be “significant.’’

Several senior military and administration officials have advocated steeper troop reductions. But Gates has said pulling out too fast would threaten gains that the US-led coalition has made in the 18 months since Obama agreed to a surge of 30,000 troops.

A NATO service member was killed by a pipe bomb yesterday in southern Afghanistan, where violence is increasing as the poppy harvest ends and the Taliban turn opium profits into payments for fighters.

A day earlier, another coalition service member was killed in a roadside bomb attack. NATO has provided no other details about the attacks or the identities of the dead.

Two NATO crew members died when their helicopter crashed on Sunday. The alliance is investigating the crash.

In the southern province of Helmand, the world’s leading opium producer and the Taliban’s profit center, NATO officials say insurgents are regrouping and fighting to retake key cities and towns they lost during clearing operations by US Marines during the past year.

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