The Cable

Confirmed: Obama to "surge" 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and "begin" withdrawal in July 2011

The White House has now confirmed that President Obama will announce the addition deployment of 30,000 new U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as well as a plan to start withdrawing troops in July of 2011.

Two administration officials briefed reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon ahead of Obama's Tuesday evening speech at the West Point military academy. The officials called the increase a "surge" and said that while the withdrawal would begin in July 2011, the pace and end point of the withdrawal would be determined by Obama at a later time.

"This surge will be for a defined period of time," one of the officials said, "What the president will talk about tonight is a date ... by which he will begin to transfer the leadership role to our Afghan partners."

"He will not tonight specify the end of that process or the pace at which he will proceed. That date and process will be determined by conditions on the ground."

The idea of a time frame for withdrawal of U.S. forces is a controversial one, especially among lawmakers, who reacted strongly to reports of a three-year time frame Tuesday morning. The White House later denied those reports to The Cable.

One of the administration officials sought to preempt criticisms of a set date for withdrawal by saying that leaving the withdrawal endpoint flexible would prevent Afghans from simply stalling until American troops leave.

"If the Taliban thinks they can wait us out, they are misjudging the president's approach," the official said, while adding, "It does put everyone under pressure to do more, sooner."

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has already come out against the White House plan to begin withdrawal in 2011.

The 30,000 figure includes two or three full combat brigades plus one full brigade-sized element focused exclusively on training Afghan security forces. All new combat troops will be partnered with Afghan forces in some fashion.

The new strategy will also include a beefed-up commitment to Pakistan, although the administration officials declined to give specifics. More on that later....

 

The Cable

White House denies CNN report of 3 year timeline for Afghanistan withdrawal

President Obama will not announce a three-year time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, despite a CNN report to the contrary.

"That's wrong. The time frame of three years is nowhere in the speech," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. He added that spokesman Robert Gibbs's statement on this issue earlier Tuesday was accurate but did not elaborate.

Gibbs told CNN's John King this morning that "the president will discuss tonight the time frame in which he believes we can transition our forces out of Afghanistan."

CNN then reported that time frame will be three years, according to multiple administration officials.

This sparked a firestorm of reaction on Capitol Hill, with hawks and dovs alike reacting to the idea.

"I hope it's not true," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, who added that he supported Obama expected announcement of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan as "enough."

"I hope it's not an explicit deadline to get our troops out because that undermines the mission, but some mention of a time line or a goal is OK," Lieberman said.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, said that he was "very happy" about the idea of "having a timeline or some sense that this is not open-ended."

He is simultaneously opposed to the basic idea of increasing troops there in the first place.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he expected Obama to announce "milestones" but not a hard timeline. 

Senior administration officials are set to brief reporters on the Afghanistan strategy momentarily.