In his Afghanistan policy address last week, President Obama said we would “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.” In a series of in-depth profiles of the behind-the-scenes conversations that took place in the lead-up to this pronouncement, the Washington Post and New York Times report that the President wanted a strategy to get in and get out.
“The military was told to come up with a plan to send troops quickly and then begin bringing them home quickly,” the Times writes. “He had asked for a plan to deploy and pull out troops quickly,” writes the Post. Looking at a bell curve that laid out the timetable for the deployment and withdrawal of U.S. troops, Obama reportedly told his advisers: “I want this pushed to the left.” The Times writes, “In other words, the troops should be in sooner, then out sooner.”
But as administration officials touted the President’s Afghanistan strategy this morning on the Sunday political talk shows, they underscored that the U.S. troops may not be coming home in 2011:
Gen. David Petraeus: “There’s no timeline, no ramp, nothing like that.” [Fox News Sunday]
National Security Adviser James Jones: “It is not a cliff. It is a glide slope. And so certainly, the President has also said we are not leaving Afghanistan.” [CNN State of the Union]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “Well, first of all, I don’t consider this an exit strategy. And I try to avoid using that term. I think this is a transition.” [ABC This Week]
Watch a compilation:
On Meet the Press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We’re not talking about an exit strategy or a drop dead deadline.” Gates added, “We will have a significant — we will have 100,000 forces — troops there. And they are not leaving — in July of 2011.”
Jones also told the BBC, “In no manner, shape or form is the United States leaving Afghanistan in 2011.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also making a push to soften the timetable. He told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “if it takes longer [than 2011], they must be with us.”
Notably, Vice President Joe Biden — who was reportedly a skeptic of the escalation strategy — did not appear on political talk shows to tout the new strategy. Biden did sign his name to an e-mail sent to Obama supporters last week saying he believes it is a “focused strategy that can succeed.”
On CBS, Gates said the beginning of the withdrawal is “firm,” but the pace is conditions-based:
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Gates insisted that the specific date was “firm,” but said that just how many troops would come home at that point would be determined by the country’s progress.
“What is conditions based is the pacing at which our troops will come home and the pace at which we will turn over responsibility to the Afghans,” Gates said.