US mulls larger troop pullout from Afghanistan: report

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Top White House national security advisers are considering much more significant troop reductions in Afghanistan than those discussed even a few weeks ago, The New York Times reported late Sunday.
The newspaper said some officials were arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden.President Barack Obama is expected to address these decisions in a speech to the nation this month, the report said.
The National Security Council is convening its monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, and assessments from that meeting are likely to inform decisions about the size of the force, The Times said.
Before the new thinking, US officials were anticipating an initial drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops, the paper noted. Those advocating steeper troop reductions did not propose a withdrawal schedule, according to the report.
But the latest strategy review is about far more than how many troops to take out in July, the paper noted. It is also about setting a final date by which all of the 30,000 surge troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan, The Times said. Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last year in a bid to gain the initiative in the war against Taliban-led insurgents which started in 2001, while vowing to begin pulling out forces by mid-2011.
Roughly 100,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan as part of an international force. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in Afghanistan Saturday that a “modest” number of troops would likely be pulled out in July and argued for maintaining pressure on the insurgents to force them to the negotiating table – possibly by the end of the year.
In a telephonic interview, Gen David H Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, sounded a cautious note about the state of the war in a telephone interview, reported The New York Times. Although General Petraeus said there was “no question” that the Americans and the Afghans had made military progress in the crucial provinces of Helmand and Kandahar in the south, he added that the Taliban were moving to reconstitute after the beating they took this past fall and winter.
“We’ve always said they would be compelled to try to come back,” General Petraeus said, adding that the Taliban would be trying to “regain the momentum they had a year ago.” General Petraeus declined to discuss the withdrawal of American forces in July or the number he might recommend to the president.
On the other hand, the United States will send more than 1,000 additional Marines to Afghanistan this month to try to solidify progress in the south before troop reductions begin in July, The NYT quoted American military officials in a another report.
The majority of the forces will be sent to Helmand, where 20,000 Marines have made gains against the Taliban but where fighting remains intense in insurgent strongholds like Sangin.