As 10,000 troops leave the country, key Hill supporters are turning against the war
President Obama's upcoming announcement about how many troops he'll begin withdrawing from Afghanistan next month will vividly underscore how much the war debate has shifted, inside and outside Washington, since Obama announced the Afghan surge in December 2009.
Obama will unveil his troop withdrawal decision Wednesday, bringing an end to weeks of fevered speculation about the course of the deeply unpopular Afghan war. A senior Pentagon official said in an interview Tuesday that he expects the president to endorse a "phased withdrawal" that would bring one combat brigade, or about 5,000 troops, home over the summer and a second would begin leaving by the end of the year. He said Obama will also commit to bringing back the remaining 20,000 surge troops by the end of 2012, though the military expects the president to be deliberately vague about the timing of the final stages of the troop drawdown, as he was in Iraq.
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Whatever path he chooses, Obama will confront a political landscape that has shifted significantly since he stood before an audience of cadets at West Point 18 months ago and said he had decided that it was in America's "vital national interest" to send 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to battle the resurgent Taliban and stamp out any remaining al-Qaida militants there or in neighboring Pakistan.
At the time, both the military and the nation's intelligence community agreed that Afghanistan was rapidly deteriorating and that the U.S. and its allies stood a realistic chance of defeat unless they rapidly changed course there. There were debates about what type of approach to put in place and precisely how many additional troops to deploy, but key policymakers from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department were in broad agreement that the U.S. needed to adopt a new strategy and dispatch considerable new resources to the country.