Officials: US Pullout from Afghanistan to Begin Slowly

Posted July 6th, 2011 at 8:40 pm (UTC-5)
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The No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says a planned troop withdrawal from the country will begin slowly, with the departure of about 800 National Guard troops later this month and some 800 Marines in the fall.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon by video link from Kabul Wednesday, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez said the troops will not be replaced. He said the drawdown will be carried out gradually as U.S. President Barack Obama has promised.

Mr. Obama announced last month that 10,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, with another 23,000 to depart by September of 2012.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Afghans gathered in eastern Ghazni province Wednesday to protest the death of two shepherds allegedly killed in a NATO strike earlier in the day. The protesters shouted “Death to foreign troops” as they carried the two bodies to Ghazni city.

NATO said it was conducting a joint investigation into the incident with Afghanistan's interior and defense ministries. It said the airstrike killed an insurgent who was trying to plant a home-made bomb along a road.

In western Farah province, Afghan police said gunmen abducted 32 mine clearance workers. Local police chief Sayed Mohammad Roshandel said the men were kidnapped in Bala Buluk district, after the gunmen set fire to at least one of their vehicles.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but kidnapping in exchange for ransom has become a common strategy for local criminal groups and Taliban militants since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban government.