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Clinton says hasty Afghan pullout will hurt progress

By Matthew Lee
Associated Press / April 15, 2011

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BERLIN — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned NATO allies yesterday against bringing forces home from Afghanistan too soon, even as the United States prepares to begin drawing down its forces in July.

Clinton said the Taliban will be watching what the alliance does in the coming months and that speedy reductions will hurt the fragile security gains the alliance claims. The United States is worried that pressure will grow within the alliance to match US withdrawals and answer rising discontent with the war in Europe.

Clinton told NATO foreign ministers that an exodus of other forces would make it appear to the Taliban that withdrawals were a sign of alliance weakness and defeat. The United States and its NATO partners cast the planned reductions as a mark of success and the beginning of a transition to Afghan control that would allow all foreign forces to leave eventually.

NATO has invested too much to risk that perception, Clinton said.

“We need to ensure that these sacrifices are not overtaken by political expediency and short-term thinking,’’ Clinton said. “We need to worry less about how fast we can leave and more about how we can help the Afghan people build on the gains of the past 15 months.’’

President Obama, who approved more than 40,000 additional forces for Afghanistan in the first year of his presidency, has pledged to begin withdrawing US troops in July. The initial withdrawal is expected to be modest, but it is politically significant as a mark of US intention to begin shouldering less of the load in Afghanistan and bring all combat forces out by the end of 2014.

As the plans for that withdrawal move ahead, Clinton stressed that the alliance had “to underscore that we are transitioning, not leaving.’’

The United States now has roughly 100,000 forces in Afghanistan, more than twice as many as the other allied nations combined.

She said the Taliban and other extremist groups would seize on any opportunity to claim victory.

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