Is Obama Abandoning 2011 Afghan Draw-Down?

A report says he's quietly planning to stay longer

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President Barack Obama initially announced his plan to increase U.S. involvement and troop levels in Afghanistan alongside a plan to begin drawing them back down in July 2011. Though they never clarified how quickly that deescalation would proceed or whether its end goal was the complete removal of U.S. troops, White House officials have consistently emphasized the draw-down in discussing Afghan strategy. Now, however, McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reports that the Obama administration may be preparing to publicly abandon the July 2011 timetable. Here's what Youssef found and how people are reacting.

  • New Deadline in 2014, but Vaguely  McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reports, "The new policy will be on display next week during a conference of NATO countries in Lisbon, Portugal, where the administration hopes to introduce a timeline that calls for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the year when Afghan President Hamid Karzai once said Afghan troops could provide their own security. ... The Pentagon also has decided not to announce specific dates for handing security responsibility for several Afghan provinces to local officials and instead intends to work out a more vague definition of transition when it meets with its NATO allies."
  • Two Primary Causes: Pakistan and Republicans  Daily Kos's Timothy Lange writes, "the choice of de-emphasizing the July deadline was made in part because of what they said is a perception among Pakistani officials that 2011 would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. military action in Afghanistan. This perception has led Pakistan's military to seek a political settlement with the Taliban and reduce its pressure on Taliban infiltrators into Afghanistan. The midterm election losses that put Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives has also reduced pressure on the administration to begin an early withdrawal."
  • I Told You So  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum sighs, "Last May, after reading about Gen. David Petraeus's ironclad promise that we could begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by next year, I said, 'Promise or not, I'll bet that next year, when the drawdown is supposed to start, Petraeus tells us we need to stay.' A month later, after reading Gen. Stanley McChrystal's comments on problems with the Kandahar offensive, I said, 'It sure sounds to me as if McChrystal is starting the PR campaign for this now.' ... Apparently Pentagon officials now consider 2014 to be the new 2011. I'm sure that will change sometime around 2013 though." Reason's Jesse Walker adds, "Is anyone surprised by this?"
  • The Right Move  A commenter on a post noting the changes by National Review's Rich Lowry wrote, "I'm glad to see them walk this back. I'd prefer a solid statement of intent from the Administration, rather than political calculation designed to do what's right without angering supporters on the left who are on the wrong side of this issue, but I'll take what I can get."
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