Obama set to cut US Afghan forces

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The Independent US

President Barack Obama will set the course for drawing down the war in Afghanistan tomorrow, when he is expected to announce plans to remove around 10,000 American troops in less than a year.









In a prime-time address from the White House, Mr Obama is likely to outline a phased withdrawal that will send 5,000 troops home this summer and an additional 5,000 by winter or spring 2012, according to a senior US defence official.



That timeline could allow military commanders to keep high troop levels in Afghanistan for two more crucial fighting seasons.



But the cuts expected this year may not be substantial enough to satisfy some in Congress and a war-weary public.



The president reached his decision a week after receiving a range of options from General David Petraeus, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan.



Mr Obama is also weighing a timeline for bringing home the remaining 20,000 of the 30,000 "surge" troops he ordered to Afghanistan as part of his December 2009 decision to send reinforcements to reverse the Taliban's battlefield momentum. The withdrawals would put the US on a path toward giving Afghans control of their security by 2014 and ultimately shifting the US military from a combat role to a mission focused on training and supporting Afghan forces.



At least 1,522 members of the US military have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.



About 100,000 US troops are in the country, three times as many as when Mr Obama took office. Even by drawing down the 30,000 reinforcements, there still will be great uncertainty about how long the remaining 70,000 troops would stay there, although the US and its allies have set December 31, 2014, as a target date for ending the combat mission in Afghanistan.



Afghan security forces and judicial institutions are expected to take up many aspects of the counterinsurgency fight by establishing the rule of law and respect for government institutions.



In recent speeches, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has criticised American forces, suggesting his ally is in danger of becoming an occupying force. He has even threatened action against international forces that conduct airstrikes and has accused allies of undermining and corrupting his government.



The transition to full Afghan control will begin in earnest on July 20 in five provincial capital cities and two provinces. The provincial capitals identified for transition are Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, plus capitals from provinces in the west, east and north and most of Kabul, the nation's capital. The largely peaceful northern provinces of Bamyan and Panjshir will also start to transition to Afghan control.

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