WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama will “likely” withdraw about 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, with half coming out this summer and the remainder leaving later in 2011, a senior US defense official said Tuesday.
Another 20,000 troops, which formed part of a troop buildup ordered earlier by Obama, would be withdrawn by the end of 2012, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The official described the numbers as the most “likely” option to be backed by the US president, who has nearly tripled the US military’s presence in Afghanistan since coming into office.
“That looks like where it’s headed,” the official said.
Obama, in a bid to turn the tide in the grinding war, ordered a surge of 30,000 reinforcements in December 2009, while promising to begin a gradual troop pullout in July of this year.
The drawdown numbers, which were first reported in the Wall Street Journal and other US media, suggest Obama for the most part has chosen to heed the advice of military commanders and keep most of the surge force in place this year and through next year’s summer fighting season, officials said.
“It’s a reflection the president has been listening to his military advisers,” the official said.
“But also that he is following through on his commitment to the American people and to (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai” to begin a troop drawdown, the official said.
Obama is set to address the nation on the withdrawal on Wednesday, laying out an exit plan for a 10-year war launched in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
When Obama entered the White House in January 2009, there were 35,000 American troops in Afghanistan. By the time he announced the troop buildup in December of that year, the US contingent had increased to 68,000.
According to the Pentagon, there are now 99,000 US troops in Afghanistan along with 47,000 allied forces.