On Wednesday, President Obama announced that he will be withdrawing 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and the remaining 23,000 "surge" troops by the end of next summer, leaving 68,000 troops to be withdrawn gradually until combat operations end in 2015. The decision was the product of lengthy deliberations within the Administration and since Obama delivered his speech announcing the new plan on Wednesday night, reports have been trickling out of the White House describing where his key officials stand. We've collected the reports so far.
SUPPORT WITH RESERVATIONS
- Admiral Mike Mullen: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is retiring this fall, told a House committee on Thursday that Obama's timetable--which would remove a third of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of next summer--is "more aggressive" and incurs "more risk" than he "was originally prepared to accept." He added, however, that the risks were "manageable" and that the U.S. "would have run other kinds of risks by keeping more forces in Afghanistan longer. We would have made it easier for the Karzai administration to increase their dependency on us." While Mullen said he ultimately supports the plan, the AP believes his comments "made clear" that Obama "rejected the advice of his generals."
- General David Petraeus: In a Senate hearing on his nomination to become C.I.A. director, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said that while Obama's approach was "more aggressive" than he and other commanders recommended, "this is not something I think where one hangs up the uniform in protest." That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Andrew Malcolm at the Los Angeles Times thinks the general's "candid answers ... confirming latent suspicions, will endure in the political debate, especially if Taliban and al-Qaeda forces bide their time awaiting the announced pullout and either hold off allied progress or even reverse it."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: The outgoing defense secretary, who has publicly advocated a more gradual troop withdrawal, told PBS on Thursday that as he listened to the administration's internal debate about the withdrawal, he became a "strong advocate" for pulling surge troops out by the end of next summer as an option "that struck a balance between our military needs and sustainability here at home" (an apparent reference to the waning public support for the war). He added that the U.S. has "most of next year to both beat back the Taliban further but also improve the quality and quantity of the Afghan security forces." How does incoming defense secretary Leon Panetta feel? He hasn't said anything publicly since Obama's speech, but the Los Angeles Times noted earlier this week that during Panetta's tenure as C.I.A. chief, the agency "has been more skeptical than the U.S. military about the success and sustainability of the current counter-insurgency strategy" in Afghanistan.
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: In testimony before a Senate committee on Thursday, Clinton said that while it is "understandable that a military commander would want as many troops for as long as he could get them," the generals also know that "there are other factors at work." Not surprisingly for America's top diplomat, she added that the key to ending the conflict isn't military might but political negotiations with the Taliban (which she described as "very preliminary" and "not a pleasant business") and strengthening America's tense relations with Pakistan (which she described as "sometimes very outraging").
- Vice President Joe Biden: Biden, who has long advocated a smaller military presence in Afghanistan, noted in a video on Thursday that "we're keeping our promises" by withdrawing troops and winding down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "After a decade of war, amid rising debt and hard economic times, this is an investment well worth making because our economic prosperity has always been the key to our progress not only at home, but for our security around the world," he said. Here's the video: