The plan for July withdrawals in Afghanistan will be announced Wednesday, but the strong indication is that surge troops (numbering 33,000) will be removed over an 18-month time period. The fact that David Petraeus endorsed that number today leans strongly in that direction.
Formally, Petraeus wants to withdraw one brigade combat team of about 5,000 troops by the end of the year, and another 5,000 by the spring of next year. But mindful that the political environment in the U.S. and in Congress has turned sharply against the war, Petraeus is aware that the extra brigades he inherited cannot remain in place through 2014, when control of the country’s security is scheduled to be officially turned over to indigenous Afghan forces.
Petraeus is expected to be confirmed as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency by September. He wants his successor, Lt. Gen. John Allen, to keep the extra brigades operational as long as possible. If they stay in the theater until the end of 2012, their force presence would equal the duration that troops surged to Iraq spent there.
You can substitute Petraeus’ preferences for Obama’s pretty cleanly. I’d say this is what gets introduced.
This will be called a major withdrawal, because the number of troops, and not the time frame, will be stressed. But this would mean that, by the end of 2012, 70,000 US troops would still remain in Afghanistan, a figure that includes the 21,000 initial surge troops that Obama put in almost immediately in 2009. In other words, under this plan there would be more troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2012 than there were under President Bush at the end of 2008.
And remember that Bush-era formulation of “return on success” that drove many decisions around troops in Iraq? Obama clearly wanted to use that, but realized he couldn’t:
The administration had hoped to couple Obama’s announcement on troop withdrawals with news of progress on political reconciliation with Taliban leaders. But discussions have stalled following several rounds of talks this spring between U.S. officials and Taliban interlocutors, first in Qatar and later in Germany.
The question is whether this withdrawal timeline is adequate enough to stop a revolt, in the words of Rep. John Garamendi. I don’t think so. Garamendi’s request was for a force of just 10,000 in Afghanistan by the end of next year. This proposal would keep 70,000 there.
If Congress has an opinion on this, let them share it.