Entries in Withdrawl (12)


Senate Leaders Agree: US Should Keep Timetable for Afghanistan Withdrawal

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate both said Tuesday they don’t believe the shooting rampage this weekend in Kandahar should affect the timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“I think we should stick by the drawdown that we have now,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday. “I support Secretary Panetta, who’s saying that they’re going to do everything they can to resolve the issue and have the Afghan people understand that that’s not America.  And I think that we should stick by what we have.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., echoed Reid’s statement when he was asked later.

“I support the policy the administration has laid out to move toward a transition over the next couple of years,” McConnell said. “The president has a plan to transition this mission over to the Afghan army over the next couple of years.  I know it’s been a very challenging period, but I think we ought to stick with the plan that’s been laid out by the administration.”

On Sunday an Army staff sergeant allegedly went on a rampage, killing 16 Afghans as they slept in their homes.  The suspect was serving on his fourth combat deployment in 10 years, the first three in Iraq. He was on his first tour in Afghanistan, where he’d been since December.

An official told ABC News that the soldier has suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the past, either from hitting his head on the hatch of a vehicle or in a car accident. He went through the advanced TBI treatment at Fort Lewis and was deemed to be fine.

President Obama, in an interview with ABC station KABC-TV in Los Angeles this week, said it’s important not to “rush for the exits” in Afghanistan following this weekend’s massacre, and the White House has said the incident will not change the timetable for the withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan.

Before this weekend’s incident there was a movement brewing in the Senate, led by Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to pressure Obama to speed up the withdrawal. More than 20 senators, including two Republicans -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah -- signed a letter expressing this to Obama last week.

“We simply cannot have more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan,” the letter says. “It is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama: Afghanistan Massacre Underscores Need to Withdraw Responsibly

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama said Monday that the shooting of 16 Afghan villagers, apparently by a U.S. soldier, underscores the need to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Speaking to ABC’s Orlando affiliate, WFTV, the president said the “tragic” incident signals “the importance of us transitioning in accordance with my plan so that Afghans are taking more of the lead for their own security and we can start getting our troops home.”

“We’ve got to do it in a responsible way, reducing our footprint progressively, giving Afghans more and more responsibility, while we keep an eye on going after al Qaeda and making sure that no attacks against our homeland can be launched from that region,” the president said. “That’s going to be my continued focus over the next couple of years.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the shooting will not impact the timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops because the objectives in Afghanistan have not changed. The U.S. and its NATO allies intend to turn over security control to the Afghans by the end of 2014.

“I do not believe that this incident will change the timetable of a strategy that was designed and is being implemented in a way…to allow for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, to allow for the transfer of lead security authority over to the Afghans,” he said.

The U.S. is expected to reduce its force to about 68,000 by the end of September, down from the roughly 91,000 now in Afghanistan.

Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the weekend to offer his condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives. “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan,” Obama said in a written statement Sunday.

While the investigation is ongoing, the president reiterated to WFTV that “in no way is this representative of the enormous sacrifices that our men and women have made in Afghanistan.”

Asked about the fear of retaliation, the president said, “This has been incredibly dangerous from the start and it’s not going to get any easier over the next few months.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Aims to Switch Away from Combat in Afghanistan Next Year

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- American troops will still leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta laid out a plan Wednesday that by late next year U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan could switch from a combat role to a training mission.

Traveling to a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, Panetta provided reporters accompanying him with the clearest schedule yet for how the alliance plans to transition the lead for security in Afghanistan to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.

"Hopefully, by mid- to the latter part of 2013, we’ll be able to make...a transition from a combat role to a training, advice and assist role,” Panetta said, "which is basically fulfilling what Lisbon was all about.”

NATO leaders agreed at the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, that Afghan security forces should take over security responsibility in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, bringing an end to a mission that has dragged on for more than a decade.

Panetta described 2013 as a “critical year” because it will see the end of the phased transition of the most difficult security areas to Afghan forces.  According to the defense secretary, 2014 would be about “consolidating the transition and making sure that those gains are in fact held.”

Panetta said U.S. troops could still see combat even after the shift to a train-and-assist mission in 2013.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be combat-ready,” he said. “We will be, because we always have to be in order to defend ourselves.  But we are going to be largely transitioning to a support role for the Afghan army as they take over these different areas in the future.”

Next year’s switch to a training mission in Afghanistan is similar to how the Iraq withdrawal was conducted, and Panetta said as much to reporters.  

“Hopefully, we could reach a point in the latter part of 2013 that we could make the same kind of transition we made in Iraq, from a combat role to a train-and-assist role,” he said.

It was unclear how the shift would affect the pace of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Panetta said. The 91,000 American troops in Afghanistan will be reduced to 68,000 by the end of September as part of the planned reduction of 33,000 surge troops President Obama sent in 2010.

“Frankly, we haven’t made any decisions,” about further troop withdrawals, said Panetta. “What I can say is that 2013 is a critical year and, therefore, will demand that we have a strong presence there in order to make sure that the gains that we’ve made up to that point are continued.”

In December, Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told The Wall Street Journal that U.S. forces would begin to be deployed this year with Afghan units as advisers and trainers as the Afghan forces began to take the lead militarily.   

Panetta said it was important that NATO stick to the 2014 withdrawal timetable.

“The Lisbon strategy basically said that we ultimately are in a process where we will withdraw our forces by the end of 2014,” he said. “And I think we ought to stick with that.”

France broke with the 2014 timetable last week when French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that French combat troops would speed up their withdrawal and be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013.  Sarkozy made his decision after a deadly attack by an Afghan soldier killed four French troops.  A small contingent of French trainers would remain in Afghanistan in 2014.

Chicago will host a NATO leaders’ summit in May. That, presumably, would be the venue to formalize the timetable laid out by Panetta.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'It's Finished': Last of US Soldiers Leave Iraq

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- Camp Victory, once the site of Saddam Hussein's former palace, is a military ghost town now. A base where 70,000 Americans once lived, the base was eerie and barren as the last of the U.S. troops departed Iraq this week with a one-way ticket.

Army Pfc. Joseph Kelley, who was 11 when the war began in 2003, smiled wide as he patrolled Baghdad presumably for the last time Wednesday. He wasn't the only one.

Across the world, in Fort Hood, military families waited anxiously for the return of their loved ones. Five-year-old Scottie Mathews, clutching his "papa bear," had been counting the days for the return of his father, Army Staff Sgt. Ferren Mathews. Across town, Raitasha Green and her three children also waited patiently, as did Jennifer Smitt.

Mathews, Sgt. First Class Larry Green and Staff Sgt. James H. Courter are part of one of the last units to leave Iraq. Among them, they boast 11 tours of the war-torn country.

For Courter, 28, the final departure from Iraq marked the closure of a long and turbulent decade. Just one semester into college, Courter dropped out in 2001 to join the armed forces. His unit was one of the first to be deployed to Iraq when the United States invaded the country in 2003. Since then, Courter has been back four times.

Mathews knows very well what it's like to be in the line of fire. In his three tours in Iraq, the 38-year-old father of three has narrowly survived six bomb attacks. On his last deployment, he barely made it out alive. Mathews was inside a flaming vehicle that was attacked by insurgents, and later featured in one of their videos.

Mathews is thrilled to be coming home, but like many of his counterparts, he is troubled by the personal costs that both Americans and Iraqis have had to pay. Nearly 4,500 Americans and 104,000 Iraqis have died since the war began, and more than 32,000 Americans have been wounded.

The stories of sacrifice run deep among the thousands of soldiers who were deployed to Iraq.

On four tours to Iraq, Green has spent more than half his life in the past nine years away from home, missing birthdays, anniversaries and many "firsts" of his children.

"I look at it like a loss," he said. "I look at it as something that I will never have the opportunity to re-live: First steps, first words, first days of school, and there is no type of accomplishment that I will be able to achieve that will meet me with that satisfaction that I wasn't there to take part in."

To this day, the 33-year-old has continuous nightmares about being in Iraq.

One of his most vivid memories, he recalls, is of killing an 8-year-old boy who was throwing grenades over the military's compound wall in Fallujah.

But like many of his fellow soldiers, Green says without hesitation that if he would have to serve in Iraq, he would do it all over again, "the exact same way." The father of three says he is proud to have played a part in history and moving Iraq into a different direction, one he hopes will be for the better.

Iraq and the United States face a new chapter and a new set of challenges as U.S. troops withdraw. For the United States, the growing influence of Iran on one border and Syria on the other is a continuing cause of concern. Iraq continues to be rocked by Sunni-Shia, Kurdish-Iraqi violence and the absence of a strong, stable regime. The threat of al Qeada also remains, but U.S. generals say it's time for the Iraqi security forces to take over.

"We know that al Qaeda is going to do what they've always done," Gen. Lloyd Austin said. "They are going to continue to try to focus on the government and the Iraqi security forces. And the Iraqi security forces are going to have to deal with that, and I think they can."

"They are going to have to work hard at it. They are going to have to improve their intelligence. They are going to have to continue to work on their logistics as well, that's still a work in progress."

For U.S. soldiers leaving Iraq, this week is momentous.

"I stopped, took a second, looked around, smelled the air as only Iraq can smell, saw the sunset," Courter said, laughing, of what's expected to be his last departure from the country. "It was an indescribable feeling, knowing you had been here so much, all the cost of what we have done here. It's finished."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Only 8,000 US Troops in Iraq; Military Officials Hold Final Briefing

US Dept of Defense/Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden(WASHINGTON) -- In another sign Wednesday that the U.S. military is leaving Iraq, the Pentagon held its last video briefing from Iraq for Pentagon reporters. These are the sessions held in the Pentagon briefing room where reporters gather to ask questions of a senior military official remotely from Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq, had the honor of conducting the last briefing from Iraq. In his opening remarks Helmick said he wanted to answer whether the U.S. presence in Iraq was worth it. “From where I sit, it was,” Helmick said, noting that the U.S. had improved security to hold democratic elections and because they will leave behind a trained and capable security force. 

The U.S. military numbers keep dropping: 8,000 Wednesday -- it was 9,000 on Monday -- and there are only 5,000 contractors left. Helmick compared those numbers to 2007 when there were a combined 300,000 U.S. military troops and contractors in Iraq.

The remaining troops are located on five bases and there are still less than 1,000 truckloads of material to ship out of Iraq by the end of December. Helmick said that drawdown preparations began 18 months ago and that in that timeframe U.S. military transportation vehicles have driven 16 million miles, or an amount equal to 482 trips around the world. He said there had been few security incidents that have occurred as the troops have gone south to Kuwait the past few months. 

As to what will happen security-wise after the U.S. leaves, Helmick said he wished he knew. “We really don't know what's going to happen. But we do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we -- that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have credible security forces to provide for the security, the internal security of their country.”  He said the Iraqis providing for their internal security shouldn’t be a problem, but their ability to protect from an external threat is still a question mark, he noted that there is still a gap in providing for their air sovereignty because of the lack of aircraft. 

It’s the “the professionalism, confidence and esprit de corps of the Iraqi security forces” that he said would be the U.S. military’s greatest legacy in Iraq. “In closing, I want to thank every American who supported us in ways large and small as we built a country's military and we gave 28 million Iraqis really the greatest gift anybody can give, and that's their freedom.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


US Withdrawal from Iraq: Air Base at Balad Turned Over to Iraqis

US[dot]Army[dot]mil(BALAD, Iraq) -- The number of American service members in Iraq is plummeting ahead of a fast-approaching Dec. 31 deadline for all American troops to be out of the country.

There are now 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and only seven U.S. bases remain to be turned to Iraqi control by year’s end. Just last week there were 24,000 American troops in Iraq. That’s a significant reduction from the 46,000 American troops that were in Iraq two months ago.

The most significant base to recently be turned over to Iraqi control was the giant U.S. air base at Balad in northern Iraq. It had long served as a major air hub for U.S. forces in Iraq.

Brigadier General Bradley Becker, the deputy commanding general for United States Division Center, briefed reporters Tuesday on a conference call from Iraq to provide an update on the pace of the withdrawal.

Like other senior officers who’ve spoken about the withdrawal, Becker says the U.S. plans to have most of its troops home by Christmas.  And it’s not just troops leaving Iraq, but all the equipment needed to support them too. Becker says there are still 1,740 truckloads of equipment ready to leave Iraq by year’s end.

According to Becker, the huge U.S. complex in Baghdad known Camp Victory will not be the last U.S. base to close, though it remains the largest of the few that remain to be turned over to Iraqi control. He says the only U.S. activity that will remain at Camp Victory will be a State Department logistics hub located on the base.

Becker said the last U.S. base to be transferred to the State Department will be the consulate in Basra, where there are currently some military personnel that will leave once the facility is fully transitioned to the State Department.

Earlier Tuesday the top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Lloyd Austin predicted there would be “turbulence” or an increase in violence after the U.S. leaves Iraq.  Becker agreed that after American troops leave, Iraqi extremist groups will likely ”test the waters." However, he said Iraqi troops are up to the task of disrupting the activities of these extremist groups, noting the success they’ve had since June, 2009 in providing security for Iraq’s cities. "The Iraqi security forces have shown that they’re capable for that type of a threat,” said Becker.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Foreign Allies React to Obama's US Afghan Drawdown Plans

ABC News(LONDON) -- European allies have thrown their support behind President Obama's Afghan drawdown plan.  In their own way, the allies are saying that we've done enough, and it's time to start thinking about getting ready to go home.

"The tide is turning. The Taliban is under pressure everywhere. The Afghan security forces are getting stronger every day," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The tide of public opinion in Europe turned against the campaign long ago, with many saying the war goals were too ambiguous, the involvement too lengthy and the costs simply too high.

British Prime Minister David Cameron fully agreed with the president's assessment. The British leader is behind a progressive reduction in ISAF force levels, and for his combat troops, there is an exit date. By the end of 2014, the combat mission for UK forces will be over.

But until then, there will be lots of work to do.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says, for now, it'll be business as usual.

"In terms of the announcement of the United States, our work in Uruzgan province would continue in the same way," Gillard said.

But even as the combat mission winds over the next few years, a number of contributing nations plan to keep some troops in Afghanistan. Their role, however, will change to one of training.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cleric Stages Large Anti-US Rally in Iraq

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(BAGHDAD) -- All has generally been quiet from the U.S. standpoint in Iraq as the military continues its strategy for withdrawing its remaining 45,000 troops by the end of 2011.

However, for supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the exit can't come soon enough.  They showed their contempt for U.S. forces still deployed in Iraq by staging a massive rally in Baghdad Thursday, attended by an estimated 70,000 people.

Members of Mahdi Militia marched through the capital's Sadr City slum to demand a complete American withdrawal from Iraq.  For good measure, they stomped on U.S. flags that were painted on the streets.

There are concerns by the cleric's hardline loyalists that Washington and Baghdad might try to extend the U.S. military deployment past the Dec. 31 withdrawal because of fears that Iraqi security forces still aren't ready to take on threats posed by al Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gates: No Decision Yet on Afghan Troop Reduction Numbers

Charles Dharapak - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The plan is for the U.S. to begin pulling out U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in July, but there has still been no recommendation made by Gen. David Petraeus about how many troops should come home.
That’s according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said at his media availability Tuesday with British Defense Minister Liam Fox, “I have not yet received General Petraeus' recommendations.  I expect that they will be coming in the not-too-distant future.”

Defense officials say there has been no presentation of numbers from Afghanistan to the Pentagon as to how many should come home.  They say any such discussion has been a tight hold.

Typically the military likes personnel decisions to be made with enough time to prepare or stand down troops for deployment, but in this case it could come very late in the process.  This is mainly because Petraeus wants to keep his current force level of 100,000 U.S. troops for as long as he can to fight off the Taliban when the fighting season is in full gear in a few weeks. 

It’s the middle of the poppy harvest right now, a time when young men work in the fields, and afterwards it’s typical for them to hire themselves out to the Taliban for the fighting season.  That could mean the full brunt of the fighting season won’t be seen until the same timeframe as when the administration will decide how many troops will come home in July.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


John Boehner Wants Details on US Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- House Speaker John Boehner isn't letting President Obama off the hook on Afghanistan.

The Ohio Republican, who has been critical of nearly every move made by the White House since he took over control of the House from Nancy Pelosi last January, is now demanding that Obama explain what the planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan this July will entail.

Boehner, who was in Afghanistan with a bipartisan delegation this week to speak with U.S. military leaders there, said, "If the Obama administration insists on beginning to draw down troops in July, it must explain how the pace and scope of such a move will not undermine the tenuous progress we've made thus far."

According to Boehner, Gen. David Petraeus, who commands U.S. and NATO forces, warned that military gains in Afghanistan are "fragile and reversible."

Obama has said that the drawdown starting in July will be significant and "not a token gesture."  The U.S. and Afghan government would prefer most combat forces be out of the country by the end of 2014.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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