February 12, 2013

Obama: Half of US combat troops coming home

The president's move to bring troops home coincides with a major shakeup in his war command.

The Associated Press

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FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama gestures as speaks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. The president's announcement that half of the U.S. troops now in Afghanistan will come home within one year will put the number precisely where it was when he first became president. The next step: to decide how many Americans will stay longer-term, once the combat phase of the U.S. military presence ends at 2014's close. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

AP

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The U.S. is still finalizing plans for the size and scope of its military presence after the allied combat mission ends in December 2014.

Stephen Biddle, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said the decision on post-2014 force levels is more important than the pace of 2013 withdrawals.

"The real issue is what you're ultimately going to draw down to — what does the end of this road look like, not the weigh stations," Biddle said.

Officials have said the White House is considering a range of options that would leave between 5,000 and 10,000 troops beyond 2014, but it also is hoping for help from NATO allies. Those troops would limit their missions to training Afghan troops and hunting down terrorists.

Obama discussed the next phases of the drawdown with Karzai during a meeting in Washington last month, their first since Obama's re-election. They agreed to accelerate their timetable for putting Afghan forces in the lead combat role nationwide, moving that transition up from the summer to the spring.

A persistent worry is that pulling out of Afghanistan too quickly will leave the battle-scarred country vulnerable to collapse. In a worst-case scenario, that could allow the Taliban to regain power and revert to the role they played in the years before 9/11 as protectors of al-Qaida terrorists bent on striking the U.S.

Many Americans, however, are weary of the war, according to public opinion polls, and are skeptical of any claim that Afghanistan is worth more U.S. blood. Registered voters are roughly split between those who say the U.S. should remove all troops and those who favor leaving some troops in place for counterterrorism efforts, according to a recent Fox News poll.

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