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The Pentagon’s idea of a joke?

May 10, 2011

It’s been clear for some time that the Pentagon would push for a small withdrawal starting in July, despite President Obama’s pledge that the withdrawal will be significant. The Wall Street Journal confirms today that the Pentagon is planning to advocate for withdrawing a laughably small number of troops:

U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have drawn up preliminary proposals to withdraw as many as 5,000 troops from the country in July and as many as 5,000 more by the year’s end, the first phase of a U.S. pullout promised by President Obama, officials say.

The proposals, prepared by staff officers in Kabul, are likely to be the subject of fierce internal debate in the White House, State Department and Pentagon-a discussion influenced by calculations about how Usama bin Laden’s death will affect the Afghan battlefield.

The plans were drafted before the U.S. killed the Al Qaeda leader, and could be revised. They have yet to be formally presented to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who must then seek White House approval for a withdrawal.

The article also notes that the Pentagon wants to fudge the withdrawal by withdrawing support staff, “thin[ning] out headquarters’ staff and maintenance personnel,” rather than removing people who are actually out there with weapons contributing to the continuing instability.

Does the Pentagon actually expect the American people to be appeased by a 10% reduction of troops (only a third of the troops in the most recent “surge”) after nearly ten years of war? If this is the Pentagon’s opening bid, the Obama administration had better be ready to push back and come out with something that will not be a “token gesture,” as the president has promised.

The Wall Street Journal’s analysis of the political landscape on this issue post-bin Laden doesn’t remotely resemble the reaction I’ve seen in the last week:

Mr. Obama, bolstered by the bin Laden raid, may have won political latitude to keep more forces on the ground. Likewise, they said, lawmakers who favor sweeping troop reductions may be less likely to challenge the president.

In fact, the calls for a swift withdrawal have gotten even louder, including from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Finding bin Laden in Pakistan through a special forces raid removes the thin veneer of justification for having 100,000 troops in the ground in Afghanistan, at least 1,000 for each Al Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan according to administration estimates. It also further undermines the “safe haven” myth that the Pentagon will use to justify keeping the status quo in Afghanistan (a myth that was already debunked prior to the death of Osama bin Laden).

What’s clear is that the Pentagon does not see any reason to adjust its policy. Hopefully the political victory of eliminating bin Laden will give the administration the fortitude to stand up for a serious withdrawal that puts us on the path toward ending the war. We must make our voices as loud as possible in the coming weeks to give him even more political space to do that.

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