"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While speculation abounds about the number of troops that will be withdrawn, Carney said the reports are just that, speculation.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."