The White House says President Barack Obama will announce his decision on the size and pace of a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan on Wednesday. It will come amid intensified national war-weariness and concern about the lives lost, and strains on the U.S. economy.
At Arlington National Cemetery this past Memorial Day, President Obama, after laying a wreath at the Tomb of Unknowns, stopped at Section 60, containing graves of U.S. troops killed most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It was a reminder of the grim backdrop to the decision on how many of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to begin withdrawing in July.
Mr. Obama announced the July start for the withdrawal when he presented his overall strategy for Afghanistan in December 2009.
Even as the president and military commanders point to successes in pushing back Taliban control in key areas, military commanders are worried about climbing casualty figures.
Like other presidents who have directed unpopular wars, Mr. Obama has has no shortage of advice from members of Congress.
Democrat John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “While the United States has genuine national security interests in Afghanistan, our current commitment, in troops and in dollars, is neither proportional to our interests or sustainable in my judgment.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last week called the current U.S. and NATO model in Afghanistan “the ticket home” for U.S. troops.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, he cautioned against any accelerated U.S. withdrawal despite rising anti-war sentiment in the U.S. Congress. “If we accelerate withdrawal right now because we are war weary, we’re going to lose this war,” he said.
Another Republican, Senator Richard Lugar, urges Mr. Obama to provide Americans with a new overall plan that includes a definition of success. “The more important question is whether we have an efficient strategy for protecting our vital interests that does not involve massive open-ended expenditures and does not require us to have more faith than is justified in Afghan institutions,” he said.
President Obama’s decision comes amid intensifying public dissatisfaction with the Afghanistan war.
In Baltimore, Maryland, the U.S. Conference of Mayors approved a resolution urging that billions in monthly war costs be directed to needs at home.
At the Pentagon recently, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addressed the question of Americans’ impatience. “This unhappiness, and certainly the war weariness after a decade, rests heavily on all of us, I think. And the key is how do we complete our mission, as we have largely done in Iraq, in a way that protects American national security interests and the American people and contributes to stability,” he said.
Besides incoming defense secretary Leon Panetta, civilian and military leaders who will implement President Obama’s decision are to be in place soon.
They include Marine Lieutenant General John Allen, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, along with Ryan Crocker, the new U.S. ambassador in Kabul