* Obama to deliver prime-time address on Wednesday
* President faces pressure for Afghanistan endgame
(Adds Kerry comment, details and background)
By Matt Spetalnick and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, June 21 President Barack Obama is
expected to unveil plans to remove about 5,000 U.S. troops from
Afghanistan in July and up to 5,000 more by year-end as he lays
out a broader withdrawal blueprint on Wednesday to Americans
increasingly weary of the costly, decade-old war.
Obama will announce the first phase of a promised drawdown
and could also commit to removing by the end of 2012 the
remainder of the 30,000 extra "surge" troops he ordered
deployed 18 months ago, according to a congressional source and
and U.S. official familiar with the deliberations.
The president made his final decision on Tuesday on the
scale and pace of a U.S. troop pullback in Afghanistan and will
outline his plan in a televised address from the White House at
8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT) on Wednesday.
Obama's announcement comes amid growing calls from an
anxious Congress for an endgame in Afghanistan and appeals from
the military not to tie its hands against a Taliban-led
He has sought to balance arguments from Defense Secretary
Robert Gates and military leaders for a slow drawdown of the
100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan against White House advisers
advocating an accelerated pullout now that Osama bin Laden is
dead and the 2012 re-election campaign is approaching.
But there were doubts whether Obama's decision would
reconcile these conflicting pressures or satisfy any of the
"He has been working through his decision over the course
of the last several weeks and finalized that decision today,"
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.
While Carney declined to provide details of Obama's plan,
he said it was in line with NATO's goal of turning over the
lead for security across the country to Afghan forces by 2014.
His decision could have broad implications -- not only
winding down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan but for the NATO
alliance's commitment there and Washington's troubled
relationship with neighboring Pakistan.
Obama intends to order the departure of roughly 5,000 surge
troops, equivalent to an army brigade, starting next month and
up to an equal number more by year-end, with the final number
determined by conditions on the ground, the sources said.
He could also offer a blueprint for removing what remains
of the 30,000-strong surge contingent by the end of 2012, which
would give commanders the firepower they say they need for this
fighting season and the next one, the sources said.
But the congressional source said that Obama might give the
Pentagon some flexibility by stating that the remaining surge
troops would leave at "a pace to be decided by the military."
Obama's decision comes at a critical juncture as lawmakers
from both parties are anxious to curtail a military mission
that is costing the United States $110 billion a year at a time
of tight budgets and high unemployment at home.
A Pew Research poll released on Tuesday found a record 56
percent of Americans now favor bringing all U.S. forces home
from Afghanistan as quickly as possible. [ID:nN1E75K1R4]
The killing of bin Laden in a U.S. raid last month has
helped buttress the argument inside and outside the White House
that there has been enough progress against al Qaeda to justify
scaling back the war effort faster than expected.
Pentagon officials have voiced concern a rapid withdrawal
would endanger gains against the Taliban while Obama advisers,
including Vice President Joe Biden, are said to have pressed
for a drawdown large enough to placate his Democratic Party's
anti-war wing as well as a growing number of Republicans.
Obama had been reviewing a range of options presented by
General David Petraeus, his top commander in Afghanistan.
Among the ideas under consideration was to set a timetable
of up to 18 months to pull out all of the 30,000 extra troops
he sent to Afghanistan, following a deep review of U.S. war
strategy in late 2009, to break the momentum of the Taliban.
Obama has only said the initial withdrawal will be
As reports circulated about Obama's speech, Senate Armed
Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin reiterated that the time
was ripe to bring 15,000 troops home by the end of the year.
Another top Democrat, John Kerry, chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama's drawdowm decision
should reflect the "level of progress" in the war effort.
Almost a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that
triggered the war, the Taliban has come under intense allied
pressure in strategic areas of southern Afghanistan. But
insurgents have fanned out and violence has surged along the
The United States and other Western countries have poured
billions of dollars of aid into Afghanistan, but with mixed
results. Corruption remains rampant, and President Hamid
Karzai's increasingly strident criticism of coalition forces
has escalated tensions with Washington.
(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan and Alister Bull; Editing
by Cynthia Osterman)