Senior Administration Officials: U.S. Forces will Begin to Leave Afghanistan in July 2011

Tonight's speech could be the president's most important foreign policy address.

ByABC News
December 1, 2009, 7:34 AM

Dec. 1, 2009— -- President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan will result in Afghan forces standing up on an accelerated basis, allowing U.S. forces to begin leaving Afghanistan and transfer control to local forces in July 2011, senior administration officials said today.

July 2011 "is the beginning of the process, that will be conditions-based," a senior administration official said. When U.S. forces will have withdrawn is "not yet defined in terms of the length or endpoint."

As Obama prepares to deliver what could be the most important foreign policy address of his career, tonight Afghanistan will officially become his war and he will have to explain it to a war-weary public.

The president will announce that 30,000 additional U.S. troops will head to Afghanistan -- bringing the total to 100,000 troops -- with a more focused mission and an exit plan that relies on training Afghan national forces.

"There's going to be an initiative of Afghans taking responsibility in certain geographic areas, certainly during this term," an official told ABC News, adding that will allow a "thinning out" of the estimated 100,000 U.S. forces in the country "by the end of the president's first term."

It is not just the number of troops that will increase, but there are expected to be close to 1,000 U.S. civilian personnel in Afghanistan by the first quarter of 2010, up from 320 currently, according to the official.

The official said Obama's strategy will include accelerated training of Afghan forces, an emphasis on security for population centers, and "bringing security to more areas of the country," according to the official, which will in turn "bolster the confidence of the Afghan people in U.S. resolve," and lead more of them to join the army and police.

The White House is setting a timetable to exert pressure on Afghanistan to accelerate troop training and government stability without setting a timetable alerting the enemy as to when U.S. forces will leave.

"If the Taliban think they can wait this out, I think they are misjudging the president's approach," another official said. "It may be misinterpreted but the Taliban will do that at their own risk."

In Pakistan, the president's goal of "disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda" means degrading extremist forces who threaten the government, keeping the government stable, ensuring the security of its nuclear weapons, and reducing tensions with India. In Afghanistan, the official said, that goal means reversing the momentum of the Taliban so the Afghans can govern themselves.

"We can't have the Afghans continue to expend on the endless resources of the American armed forces or the American people," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on "Good Morning America's" Diane Sawyer today. "What we are going to do after eight years is institute a genuine strategy for Afghanistan that trains the Afghan national security forces... eventually transfers the responsibility of the security of that region to the Afghan people and Afghan national security forces. ... It's a plan for getting our men and women back where they belong, which is here in the United States."

Obama pushed hard to move up the deployment to get them on the ground within six months, administration officials told ABC News today. One issue that arose in discussions with the president's "war council" was the need to have more boots on the ground as soon as possible. An original assessment that it would take new troops a year to fully deploy was, upon urging by the president, changed to six months, officials said.

A senior administration official said the first batch of troops will start deploying in January, if not sooner, and the plan is to have all the new forces in by summer. He also expressed optimism that NATO will contribute an additional 5,000 to 7,000 troops.

Of the total U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan, "there is still some assessment going on at the Pentagon as to how many combat brigades that will include," an official said, adding that it will likely be two or three. There may be a brigade completely committed to embedded training of Afghan forces. All U.S. forces will be committed to partnering with Afghan forces, officials said.

In anticipation of the president's address, officials began providing new details of Pentagon's plans, including the deployment of troops to population centers in Eastern Afghanistan, such as Khost, and in Southern Afghanistan, such as Kandahar. Administration officials sought to portray the roughly 20 members of the president's war council as united on the new policy.

"We worked together to narrow divides," an administration official said.

During the three-month review process, officials said, the president "ordered up nearly three-dozen intelligence products. It was a deep dive into who the enemy is, what their capacity is, and what would happen under various hypotheticals."

U.S. forces will seek to degrade Taliban forces both through combat and by enticing low level Taliban fighters to re-join Afghan society, including through employment in government security forces. As has been happening to a larger degree since Gen. Stanely McChrystal, the top commander on the ground, took charge in Afghanistan earlier this year, American troops will embed with Afghan units and fight alongside them.