President Obama has ordered 33,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in the next 14 months with 10,000 to be withdrawn by the end of this year. The decision, announced in a televised address to the nation from the White House, will leave almost 70,000 American troops enmeshed in what has become the longest war in American history.
The timetable settled on by the president after a vigorous internal review was faster than sought by some top military commanders but much slower than demanded by many domestic political critics. By withdrawing 10,000 this year and an additional 23,000 by summer 2012, all the troops sent in the surge in December 2009 will be out.
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"When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al-Qaida, reverse the Taliban's momentum, and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country," Obama said. "I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July."
Senior administration officials told reporters before the speech that the timetable could be accelerated. "That will be no later than September; it could be before," said one official. "There will be flexibility in the precise timing."
Obama said that after the initial withdrawal, troops "will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security Forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."