Obama announces troop reductions in Afghanistan

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Barack Obama addressing the nation on Wednesday evening.
Image: Chuck Kennedy.
File image of a U.S. Army sniper at a base in Afghanistan.
Image: U.S. Army.

A third of U.S. forces in Afghanistan are to be withdrawn from the country by the end of next year, president Barack Obama has announced. In a televised statement on Wednesday evening, Obama announced 33,000 soldiers would be withdrawn from the country by the summer of next year, and declared the U.S. had beaten al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

During the speech he announced the U.S. was "meeting our goals" to reverse the momentum of the Taliban and train the Afghan National Army, and said al-Qaeda was "on a path to defeat" after the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year. Obama said that it was "time to focus on nation-building here at home," and that the reduction in troops marked "the beginning—but not the end—of our effort to wind down this war."

U.S. civilian leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties have voiced support for a rapid drawdown of troops—27 senators from both parties sent a letter to the president last week advocating "a sizable and sustained reduction in forces." However, politicians are also angry at the huge cost of the war—currently over $2bn every week—and the U.S. public is tired of the war which has gone on ten years, leaving thousands of Americans dead.

However, NATO officials are worried the president is making a big gamble with such a large scale withdrawal, and have warned the U.S. could take substantial losses in the country as "fighting season" begins into the summer.

David Petraeus, the general who commands all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, urged a smaller withdrawal. He has reportedly refused to endorse the decision by Obama.

Analysts say any setbacks in the country this year will leave Obama exposed to allegations he was too quick in his decision and was too politically motivated.