Back in 2009, President Obama paired his decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan as part of a "surge" with a promise to remove some of those forces this summer. With the summer now upon us, Obama will deliver an address on Wednesday evening describing how he plans to withdraw the surge forces from Afghanistan (there are about 100,000 U.S. troops in total in the country). This morning, administration officials, as they tend to do in the lead-up to big policy speeches, are anonymously leaking (sometimes conflicting) details about the president's thinking to several news outlets. Here's what we're learning:
- CNN: Obama will announce that he'll withdraw the 30,000 surge troops by the end of 2012, giving U.S. commanders two more "fighting seasons" with combat forces. CNN adds that Obama is expected to emphasize in his speech "the importance of preserving flexibility in force levels on the ground so commanders can adjust as conditions warrant."
- New York Times: Yes, Obama will likely pull out all 30,000 troops by the end of 2012, but how quickly will he do it? The president is weighing four options 1) a proposal backed by the Pentagon and outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to pull out only 5,000 troops (the size of a brigade) this year, 5,000 troops next winter, and 20,000 in the fall of 2012; 2) a plan supported by Afghanistan adviser Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute to withdraw 15,000 troops this year and 15,000 in 2012; 3) an aggressive plan advocated by Vice President Joe Biden to withdraw all 30,000 troops within 12 months; and 4) a strategy, put forth by the State Department and employed by Obama in Iraq, of identifying a final date for the withdrawal of all surge forces in 2012 but leaving the details to his commanders.
- Washington Post: Obama is expected to bring home 3,000 to 5,000 troops in July, as Pentagon officials recommend, charting "the glide path for further withdrawals between now and the end of 2012."
- Los Angeles Times: Obama, citing the blow the U.S. has dealt to al-Qaeda by killing Osama bin Laden, will probably bring home 10,000 troops by the end of 2011 and all troops by the end of 2012 or early 2013. The paper adds that Obama will likely give "leeway to military commanders about the pacing of the withdrawals and the types of forces to be pulled out." He'll also keep most of the additional forces in Afghanistan through next spring and summer, when attacks typically spike, and maintain "a relatively large U.S. military footprint in place until after next November's presidential election, an important consideration for Obama, who promised in his initial run for the presidency to win the war in Afghanistan."
Over at Fox News, Chris Stirewalt argues that Obama employed a split-the-difference "Goldilocks strategy" in his 2009 Afghanistan speech when he rejected both Biden's call for a smaller military presence in Afghanistan and the Pentagon's request for a larger troop surge, and that he's likely to do the same tomorrow night. In fact, this is a characterization analysts often use when parsing Obama's major policy speeches, which generally come on the heels of a lengthy and much-publicized period of deliberation among White House advisers in which a spectrum of opinions are aired. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, for example, discussed Obama's Goldilocks strategy after his 2009 Afghanistan address ("neither too hawkish nor too dovish, but just right"). After Obama's more recent speech on the Arab Spring, Middle East expert Aaron David Miller claimed that Obama tried to "take a 'Goldilocks approach' by toughening the rhetoric on repressive regimes, but not calling for leaders in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen to step down," according to PBS. Look out for similar analysis if Obama chooses the middle ground once again on Wednesday.
Update: If you're keeping score, one more bit of intel from an unnamed U.S. defense official, via the AP: Obama will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year, with around 5,000 forces leaving this summer and 5,000 more returning home by the end of 2011. That's similar to the LA Times report.