Hint of troop cuts emerges as Afghan drawdown nears

Posted: June 17, 2011

WASHINGTON - President Obama's top general in Afghanistan has given him a range of options for withdrawing American forces as a July deadline for starting the drawdown approaches. And an early hint of some troops cuts began to emerge Thursday.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney said Gen. David H. Petraeus, along with other members of the national security team, met with the president at the White House on Wednesday. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has long been expected to give Obama multiple options for how to begin bringing U.S. forces home.

"As I think the general has said in the past publicly, this was a question of options, plural, and not option," Carney said.

White House officials would not divulge details of the options the president was considering. Carney said Obama would consult further with his national security team, including Petraeus, in coming days and announce his decision soon.

While no broad decisions have been made, Pentagon leaders said that about 800 Army National Guard troops scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan would now go to Kuwait early next month, in what will be one of the first phases of the drawdown. The remainder of the 3,500-strong 45th Infantry Brigade combat team, which is based in Oklahoma, will go to Afghanistan as planned.

The troops they will be replacing in Afghanistan have not left the United States, so there is no actual decrease in numbers yet. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed that the decision on troop withdrawals had not yet been made.

Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Pentagon reporters that as Petraeus began to identify options for the drawdown, it was pretty clear these units would be on the list. "More than anything else, it was to try to take care of them," said Mullen, "not get them headed in one direction and then have to re-head them in another direction."

The two small National Guard units were initially going to support combat operations in Afghanistan but now will be providing security in Kuwait for the ongoing withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

The Afghan war is in its 10th year. The United States has roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, three times as many as when Obama took office. When the president sent an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan at the end of 2009, he did so with the caveat that some of those troops would start coming home in July 2011.

Obama has said the initial withdrawal will be "significant," but others, including Gates, have called for a more modest drawdown.

Administration officials say they are focused not only on how many troops will leave Afghanistan next month, but also how the United States will meet its goal of giving Afghans control of their own security by the end of 2014. To that extent, Obama's decision may clarify the broader path to ending the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan.

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