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Obama's Secret Afghan Exit Formula

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
June 13, 2011
Daily Beast


By July 15, President Obama will unveil a plan to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan by upward of 30,000, but to withdraw them slowly under military guidance over 12 to 18 months, according to administration officials.

In sum, the quick exiters get the big 30,000 or so number, and the die-harders get one last year-plus at near full strength to weaken the Taliban. Ain't democracy grand? Officials caution that since no announcement will be made for almost a month, and since Obama is still being battered from all sides, the projected withdrawal total and end dates could change somewhat. No one, not even Obama's most intimate national-security aides—Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough, and Ben Rhodes—can be certain of their boss' final calculations, but key officials feel confident that the president's secret thinking will generally hold.

Sorting out the formula is for chess players. The U.S. now deploys about 100,000 troops, in addition to about 40,000 NATO troops. NATO, including Washington, recently announced that it will remove all combat forces by January 2015 (i.e., three and a half years from now). The 30,000 U.S. troops to be withdrawn beginning this July constitute the full amount deployed in the so-called surge decision of late 2009. Their departure will still leave 70,000 U.S. armed personnel in country. All these numbers, to say nothing of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, make for intriguing maneuvering in Washington. The exact number of forces to be reduced and the precise time frame for their withdrawal will be determined during the review that will get underway later this week.

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