Pentagon officials prepared for President Barack Obama to announce Wednesday that as many as 10,000 troops will be pulled from Afghanistan by year’s end, a move that would strike a middle ground between commanders who wanted to keep most of their current resources and lawmakers seeking steeper war savings.
White House and senior officials were tight-lipped Tuesday about the specific details of Obama’s announcement, but defense officials told The Daily Beast they were anticipating a plan to reduce up to two brigades of 5,000 soldiers each this year.
One possibility is that one brigade will be pulled directly from Afghanistan and that a second planned for rotation into the country won’t be sent to achieve the savings, officials said.
The Beast’s Leslie H. Gelb reported a week ago that Obama had already decided that all 30,000 troops added to the Afghan theater beginning in late 2009 as part of a surge to combat a growing insurgency would be withdrawn by the end of 2012. But the question that has lingered is how fast and how many this year.
The president has shown a propensity to split the difference among his inner circle of national security advisers. The 30,000 withdrawal figure was itself a compromise, and would still leave the U.S. at the end of 2012 with the largest military contingent inside Afghanistan at 70,000 troops.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, gave Obama a range of options. On a farewell tour of U.S. troops in Afghanistan earlier this month, Gates said repeatedly that any drawdown should initially be “modest”.
Gates and Petraeus are believed to have favored a pullout this year of no more than 3,000-5,000 troops, with more to follow in 2012. But defense officials told the Beast that one of the options they had given to Obama did envisage doubling that initial drawdown.