US may set date to pull out Afghan troops
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DWYER, Afghanistan — The US’s looming decision on troop drawdowns in Afghanistan could include a timeline for pulling out 30,000 “surge” forces deployed last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday.
Speaking to US Marines at a base in the southern province of Helmand during a visit to Afghanistan, Gates said there were “two intermediate numbers that need to be resolved” as President Barack Obama weighs a troop drawdown.
“One is, what is the size of the reduction that will be announced in July?” he said. “But the other is, at one point do you bring home the surge (forces)?”
Obama sent an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last year in a bid to gain the initiative in the war against Taliban insurgents.
He has endorsed a plan to have Afghan forces take the lead on security from NATO-led troops across the country by the end of 2014, allowing for all foreign combat troops to go home.
Saying the word “surge” implied a “a temporary strengthening of the force”, said Gates, before asking: “So how long should the surge last?”
“And I think that is the second bookend, if you will, in the decision that I think the president is going to need to make over the course of the next few weeks,” he added.
Gates said Saturday that the number of American forces withdrawn in July would likely be “modest” and said that “pressure” on the insurgents must be kept up to force them to the negotiating table.
But his comments indicated for the first time that the Obama administration may be preparing to lay out a broader outline of troop levels in the coming months and years.