Calm Down and Draw Down: The New Goals in Afghanistan

You can sum up the White House's diplomatic surge following the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in two phrases: Keep calm and draw down.

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You can sum up the White House's diplomatic surge following the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in two phrases: Keep calm and draw down. That strategy will be put forward today as President Obama negotiates an early drawdown plan in Afghanistan with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta eases tensions in Afghanistan with his unannounced arrival this morning.

After enjoying an NCAA tournament game in Dayton last night, the BBC reports that the two leaders are expected to agree on a plan to speed up the drawn down in Afghanistan. The plan is to have Afghan forces take a lead combat role by mid-2013, an earlier than expected date. Cameron told reporters in Washington "I think people want an endgame. They want to know that our troops are going to come home, they have been there a very long time." The British news service says all NATO combat troops in the country are still set to stay put until 2014, however. Touting their close relationship (the two shared a byline on an op-ed in Monday's Washington Post), Cameron added "I'm very glad I do get on so well with Barack Obama," he said. "We shouldn't have to take its temperature all the time."

In markedly different atmosphere, Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday morning for an unannounced two-day visit with the backdrop of the massacre, which follows a spate of deadly killings. The New York Times reports that on Tuesday, assailants on motorcycles fired on a high-level Afghan government delegation with machine guns and assault rifles during the memorial service for the victims of the massacre, leaving one Afghan solider dead. In Kandahar, a security official was killed and two Afghan officials and a civilian were injured when a motorcycle filled with explosives was blown up near an Afghan intelligence directorate. Panetta has urged caution and is instructing troops to maintain their resolves. “War is hell,” he said. “These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place, they’ve taken place in any war, they’re terrible events, and this is not the first of those events and it probably will not be the last. But we cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy.”

Voice of America reports that Panetta met with provincial Afghan officials Wednesday, explaining that the actions of one soldier don't represent U.S. troops, "the vast majority of whom" want to do "the right thing." According to the Associated Press, Panetta said he is awaiting plans from the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, for his plan to bring home 23,000 troops from the 2010 surge. At this point, Panetta hasn't endorsed any one schedule yet. Allen said the rough sketch of the plan has them coming home by September. There are currently 90,000 troops in Afghanistan now. 
Following some disagreements in Congress yesterday, the legislative body seems to be warming up to the administration's leadership on this issue. "Republicans and Democrats alike insist the United States should stay the course in Afghanistan, sticking to President Barack Obama's timetable for withdrawing American troops despite the massacre of Afghan civilians," reports the AP. "We're drawing down in Afghanistan and we should stick by the timeline that we have," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnel agreed, saying "I think we ought to stick to the plan that's been laid out by the administration."

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