Tonight President Obama announces in his prime time address to the nation that he will order 10,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011 and another 23,000 out by the end of next summer, ABC News has confirmed.
After months of review, the president's plan outlines the withdrawal all of the 33,000 "surge" troops that he deployed in December 2009, and committed to begin withdrawing in July.
The pace and scope of the withdrawal puts Obama at odds with the recommendation of the military, which warned against pulling out too many.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is set to retire at the end of the month, warned earlier this month that it would be premature to make any significant changes to the military campaign in Afghanistan. Gates had noted in March that the gains in Afghanistan "are fragile and reversible."
On the other side, Obama faces a war-weary public. According to the latest ABC news polling, 73 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. Yet far fewer, 43 percent, think that will happen.
Americans also question the long-term impact of America's presence in Afghanistan. Fifty-seven percent say the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States. But far fewer, 25 percent, say it has contributed "a great deal," which is the kind of payback many want to see, given the war's steep price tag. The United States has spent roughly $112 billion in Afghanistan this year alone.
The timeline outlined by the president tonight will undoubtedly have political implications for the 2012 election. According to his plan, the full surge forces will be home no later than September 2012, between the Democratic convention in August and Election Day in November.
With Congress mired in ongoing debt negotiations and the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt limit looming, lawmakers are urging the president to focus America's resources at home instead.
In a Senate speech Tuesday, freshman Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia said it was time to rebuild America, not Afghanistan, and that president should pursue significant troop reduction immediately.
Earlier in the week, members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors also urged Congress to end both the Afghan and Iraq wars and invest the money instead on jobs at home.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the president's decision was "all about the mission that was laid out in December of 2009" but declined to comment on the specifics of the announcement.
In his address to the nation tonight, Obama will announce his blueprint to begin withdrawing troops in July, a promise he made when he ordered the 30,000 troop surge. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the president's decision process was "all about the mission that was laid out in December of 2009," but declined to comment on the specifics of the announcement.
"The parameters of the decision involve the beginning of the drawdown of U.S. forces," he said Tuesday. "As you know, we ramped up in a surge the number of forces in Afghanistan and we are at that peak point. And the president … made the commitment that forces would begin to draw down in July of 2011. He is keeping that commitment. And that's what he will announce tomorrow evening."
The president met with members of his national security team Tuesday and informed them of his decision.
The president met with members of his national security team today and informed them of his decision, but it has not been widely disseminated throughout the administration.
Afghanistan Withdrawal Reduced to Speculation
"He's met with members of his national security team principals, as well as others in his national security team a number of times. And those meetings continued up through today," Carney said. "Again, this is not something that he was starting from scratch on, so he has been working through his decision over the course of the last several weeks and finalized that decision today."
While speculation abounds about the number of troops that will be withdrawn, Carney said the reports are just that, speculation. "I think it's a testament to the fact that every story has a different answer on what he's going to announce that the stories you're reading are speculation, and that the president's decision will be known when he announces it," he said. "In fact, a lot of the stories came out before he had even finalized his decision."
There are more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 30,000 of whom were part of the surge designed to stabilize the war-torn country while it boosts its own forces. An additional 3,000 troops were deployed to support the surge forces. When Obama announced the surge, he also vowed to "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."
"Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground," the president said in December 2009. "We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."
Obama will likely make the argument tonight that the United States has made significant progress toward achieving his goals; to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda, break the momentum of the Taliban, and stabilize the situation so that Afghan security forces can begin the process of taking over security.
"This president made the decision that this was a strategy that was right for national security interests of this country," Carney said. "It is a strategy that we believe has led to our successes in taking the fight to al Qaeda, including in the successful mission against Osama bin Laden. It has led to our successes in stopping the momentum of the Taliban and to our successes in training up Afghan security forces and preparing them to take the security lead."
Asked what hard indicators the president looked at to indicate that the Taliban has lost the momentum, Carney said, "The engagements reflect the fact that we have been more aggressive in engaging the Taliban and in securing territory, and in the success we've had in the south in particular. … We are keenly aware of the fact that this progress is not a done deal, that the mission is not fully achieved. And that's why the mission continues."
Asked how much consideration the president gave to waning public support for the war, Carney said, "I think we're all aware of what the public generally thinks. I think the public is interested in the right policy and a policy that is succeeding in achieving its very clearly specified goals."
"That's why the president wants to speak to the nation tomorrow," he said. "And he's not doing it during the day, and he wants to do it at night, so he can reach the American people and explain this decision, make clear that he is keeping the commitment that he made in December of 2009 to begin this drawdown, and explain again why this is important."