Obama: US Withdrawal from Afghanistan Will Preserve Gains

Posted June 23rd, 2011 at 3:45 pm (UTC-5)
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President Barack Obama has told U.S. soldiers the country is going to conduct its withdrawal from Afghanistan in a “steady way” to make sure the gains that have been made are sustained.

Speaking at Fort Drum in upstate New York Thursday, President Obama said the U.S. has “turned a corner in Afghanistan” and is not going to withdraw troops “precipitously” .

He said even as the U.S. brings out 33,000 troops by the middle of next year, there is still some fighting to be done. He noted that 68,000 American troops will remain in Afghanistan as the U.S. works to fully transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces.

Mr. Obama was addressing soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, many of them veterans of combat in Afghanistan.

The visit comes just one day after President Obama announced his withdrawal plans, telling the American people “the tide of war is receding.”

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, told lawmakers Thursday that the president's withdrawal decisions are “more aggressive and incur more risk” than he was originally prepared to accept. But he said he supports the plans.

President Obama told VOA in an interview broadcast worldwide, including in Afghanistan, that the United States is not abandoning Afghanistan by withdrawing troops. He said U.S. forces will still have a “substantial presence” in the country.

The president promised the American people in his speech late Wednesday that troop withdrawals should be complete by 2014. The Afghan war, now nearly 10 years old, has become increasingly unpopular with the American public. With a trillion dollars spent on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last decade, President Obama acknowledged it is time to focus on “nation-building at home.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he supported the president's decision, but President Obama's 2008 presidential rival, Republican Senator John McCain, said the plan is not the “modest” withdrawal that he and others had hoped for and advocated.

Former Massachusetts governor and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Mr. Obama of creating an “arbitrary timetable” and said the decision on withdrawing troops should not be based on politics or economics. The speaker of the House, Congressman John Boehner, said the U.S. should retain the “flexibility” to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes on the ground.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, say the withdrawal plan is not fast enough. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said many members of Congress and people across the country had been hoping all troops would return home sooner than they would under the president's plan. Pelosi said she will continue to press for changes in the timetable.

About 100,000 American troops are currently serving in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama said U.S. forces have inflicted losses on the Taliban and taken a number of the insurgent group's strongholds.

He expressed support for Afghan-led reconciliation talks with members of the Taliban who are willing to break from al-Qaida, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.

As a result, he said, al-Qaida is under more pressure than at any time since it attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. U.S. commandos killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, and the president said the terrorist network is on a “path to defeat.”

At least 1,500 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001. The United States spends more than $110 billion a year on the conflict.