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Obama makes good on promise

Updated: 2011-06-23 11:15

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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 Obama makes good on promise

United States President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan during a televised address from the East Room of the White House in Washington on Wednesday. Obama unveiled his plan to start bringing US troops home from Afghanistan. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Reuters

US troops to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan next month

NEW YORK - United States President Barack Obama angered his core supporters 18 months ago by announcing a 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents. He even made the case for the troop surge a week later in Oslo, Norway, during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wednesday night, Obama told the nation that the troop pullout he promised 18 months ago will begin next month.

"Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment . We are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer," Obama said in a televised speech from the White House.

Obama said the withdrawal signals the beginning of the end of the war that began shortly after Sept 11, 2001. The US and its allies have agreed to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans in 2014.

Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, believes Obama's decision is aimed at appeasing the anti-war sentiment at the heart of his base and to increase his appeal in his 2012 election.

The US public has become increasingly weary of the 10-year war, a gloomy domestic economy haunted by high unemployment and the national debt of more than $14 trillion.

A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday shows that the percentage of Americans who favor removing troops as soon as possible has reached an all-time high.

For the first time, a majority (56 percent) say US troops should be brought home as soon as possible, while 39 percent favor keeping troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.

Obama acknowledged the high cost of wars by mentioning the 45,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq and the nearly 1,500 in Afghanistan. The two wars have cost the US $1 trillion over the past decade.

He also admitted huge challenges remain in Afghanistan, but said, "the goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: No safe-haven from which al-Qaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies".

"Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource - our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy . It is time to focus on nation-building here at home," Obama said.

Charles Kupchan, professor of international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington, said the planned troop withdrawal is a move in the right direction.

"The surge has accomplished limited goals in the areas where counterinsurgency operations have been focused. But it is clear that the United States and NATO will not be able to pacify Afghanistan and turn control over to a functioning central government and a capable Afghan security force," said Kupchan, a former senior official at the National Security Council.

"Moreover, public support for the war is waning among the US public. It is time for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing troops and downsizing the scope of the mission accordingly," he said.

According to statistics, the war in Afghanistan is costing American taxpayers some $10 billion a month. Besides 100,000 US troops, more than 40,000 NATO soldiers are also stationed in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Majidyar, a senior research associate at American Enterprise Institute, praised the success of the troop surge and cautioned against a premature withdrawal.

"The surge of 30,000 troops has had notable success over the past 18 months. The coalition forces have arrested the momentum of the Taliban and expelled them from their strongholds in southern Afghanistan. The insurgents have so far failed to regain lost territories. But these security gains, as Gen David Petraeus has acknowledged, are 'fragile and reversible'," he said.

Majidyar warned that a premature withdrawal of US and NATO forces would not only undo these security gains but could also result in a civil war and the return of the Taliban and al-Qaida to Afghanistan's south and east.

Kupchan does not think that the troop reduction means the US is abandoning Afghanistan.

"Indeed, the envisaged withdrawal is occurring more slowly than many Americans, including influential voices on Capitol Hill, would like. It is likely that the United States will stay heavily engaged in Afghanistan - militarily, diplomatically, and economically - for years to come," he said.

Kupchan said no one will "win" in Afghanistan.

"But the US will have achieved a success of sorts if the country emerges from this decade of war with a semblance of political stability," he said.

Li also cautioned that the departure of the US-led forces will change the nature of the war in Afghanistan. "The current military conflicts will likely become civil war," Li said.

Daniel Goure, vice-president with the Lexington Institute, agrees that his decision may have something to do with the 2012 presidential election.

"The beginning of a withdrawal is in keeping with the president's commitment made in 2009. However, it does place the progress made to date at risk. His decision will not impact his chances for re-election," Goure said.

But Li also believes the withdrawal of US troops might offer a chance for the start of the peace process in the country as all sides, including Taliban forces and local military forces, agreed that the pre-condition for talks is to get rid of the external forces.

"The Afghanistan people know how to deal with their own problems, and a peaceful solution in the end is highly possible," he said.

Tan Yingzi, Qin Jize and Zhang Yuwei contributed to this story.

China Daily


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