No decision yet on Afghanistan troop drawdown: Robert Gates

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 26, 2011 6:48pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration, looking to wind down the war in Afghanistan even as insurgent attacks continue, has not yet decided how many troops will start coming home in July, the defense chief said on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he had not yet gotten recommendations from David Petraeus, the American general who commands the 132,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, about how many troops Washington should withdraw starting in July.

"I expect that (the recommendations) will be coming in the not-too-distant-future," Gates told reporters after meeting his British counterpart Liam Fox.

President Barack Obama, who rose to prominence as a critic of the Iraq war, has promised to begin removing some of the 100,000 U.S. soldiers this summer, a first step toward ending a war that has waning support among Americans.

A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News this week showed that more Americans disapprove of rather than support Obama's management of the Afghanistan war.

Yet Obama, who sent an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, faces a dilemma as a tenacious Taliban continues to attack local and foreign forces and the Kabul government struggles to win over Afghans wearied by decades of poverty and war.

The Pentagon is hoping the spring fighting season will prove that it has weakened the Taliban across Afghanistan. On Tuesday, the NATO-led force said an airstrike had killed a senior al Qaeda leader in eastern Kunar province.

But the challenges of containing the Taliban were illustrated this week by a massive prison break in southern Kandahar in which hundreds of prisoners escaped a high-security prison through a hole dug by the Taliban.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Missy Ryan; editing by Philip Barbara)

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