Obama's Timeline No Guarantee of Afghanistan Withdrawal
Since President Obama's speech on Tuesday evening at West Point, there has been a lot of speculation and confusion as to the Administrations interpretation of the announced withdrawal strategy. President Obama had announced that the United States would accelerate deployment to have the surge troops in place by June of 2010. Withdrawal of the surge troops would then start in July 2011 depending on the situation on the ground.
Yesterday Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, testified in front of the Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John McCain.
Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen stated that the June 2011 start date was not an arbitrary date but a target that was dependent on the progress on the ground. The Administration intends to do a comprehensive review in December 2010 to determine the progress and base their start date on an exit strategy on this review. Admiral Mullen indicated that the inital surge may be 18-24 months.
General Richard Myers, former Chief of the Joint Chiefs, in an interview this morning endorsed this strategy. His opinion is that some 68,000 troops are on the ground in Afghanistan now and 21,000 of these had been deployed shortly after President Obama took office.
Earlier this year Operation Strike of the Sword was initiated. This mission was to disrupt, dismantle and deny the Taliban and Al Quaeda influence on the local population. To this end, Canadian Forces are now deployed in a security cordon outside of Kabul.
The additional surge troops will help with gaining security throughout Hellman and Kandahar Province, the traditional home of the Taliban. In Myers judgment this would pave the way for the expedited training of Afghan Security Forces, both police and military.
In conjunction with this troop deployment Hillary Clinton emphasized that there would also be a surge of civilians, providing diplomatic and development assistance.
While the withdrawal date of July 2011 is a target, there is flexibility to move that date after the December 2010 review. In other words Obama is in this, to get the job done.
On the day after President Obama laid out his new Afghanistan strategy, the question of when American troops would leave the country quickly drew the most attention, and at times the most confusion, during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, went to Capitol Hill to explain to senators the finer points of the plan.
Gates took the lead, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that an extended commitment from the United States is an "arduous but vitally necessary mission...to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and prevent its return" to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Key to that mission, he said, would be an "extended surge of 18 to 24 months," beginning as early as several weeks from now. With an additional 30,000 U.S. troops, the American combat force will number about 100,000, with 52,000 troops sent to the country by Obama since his election.
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Clearlake, California, United States