Afghan review backs U.S. troop pullout from July

Tue Dec 14, 2010 3:38pm EST

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* Holbrooke's death overshadows meeting

* Strategy review to be unveiled Thursday

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - A review of U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan has determined that a troop increase led to important progress which may permit some soldiers to withdraw next July, the White House said on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama met for nearly two hours with his national security team in a meeting overshadowed by the death of special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who died on Monday after weekend surgery to repair a torn aorta.

Obama ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan a year ago with the goal of turning the tide against a resurgent Taliban. A year later, a two-month review of strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to be unveiled on Thursday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the review will say that "important progress" has been made in halting the momentum of the Taliban. It will cite some success against al Qaeda and that there has been greater cooperation with the Pakistani government.

Nothing in the review suggests that there should be any change in Obama's desire for some of the added troops to start leaving Afghanistan beginning in July, based on conditions on the ground, said Gibbs.

"I think we are on course for the the July 2011 date based on the conditions you've always heard the president say," he said.

Gibbs would not specify how many troops might be able to leave, saying this is something that will be worked out with commanders on the ground as the date approaches.

Some Republicans, such as Senator John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, have complained that the July 2011 date is damaging to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. McCain has said that establishing the date has encouraged U.S. enemies and confused its friends.

Obama's closed-door war review included top officials who worked frequently with Holbrooke. The session began with tributes to Holbrooke by the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The strategy will say the U.S.-led effort in the region continues to face many challenges as the United States and its allies try to prepare Afghanistan to take over its own security by 2014.

Gibbs said Obama asked his team to make some changes in the review, that some parts of it be augmented. He did not identify the sections involved. (Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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