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40,000 troops to leave Afghanistan by end of 2012

Posted November 29, 2011

— Drawdown plans announced by the U.S. and more than a dozen other nations will shrink the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan by 40,000 troops at the close of next year, leaving Afghan forces increasingly on the frontlines of the decade-long war.

The United States is pulling out the most — 33,000 by the end of 2012. That's one-third of 101,000 American troops who were in Afghanistan in June, the peak of U.S. military presence in the war, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

In the coming weeks, about 3,500 Fort Bragg soldiers will be leaving Iraq.

"Our goal is to make sure we get everybody back home before the holidays, and that is not an easy task," said Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick.

For the past year, Helmick has been tasked with the day-to-day details of getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq by Dec. 31. He says Al-Qaeda is "alive and well" and points to Iraq's next door neighbors – Iran and Syria – as ongoing challenges.

However, he says Iraq has made some tremendous strides since 2003, when U.S. forces invaded the country.

“I think the U.S. can take pride, really, in the opportunities we’ve given the country. Where they go is really up to them,” Helmick said. "Today, I see a federal police force that is actually out doing patrols and a police force that is more responsive to the country."

Another sign of progress, according to Helmick, is that the average number of daily attacks on U.S. troops has gone down from 148 in 2007 to fewer than five now.

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick 3,500 Fort Bragg soldiers to leave Iraq

As for Afghanistan, the exit is making Afghans nervous. They fear their nation could plunge into civil war once the foreign forces go home.

Their confidence in the Afghan security forces has risen, but they don't share the U.S.-led coalition's stated belief that the Afghan soldiers and police will be ready to secure the entire nation in three years. Others worry the Afghan economy will collapse if foreigners leave and donors get stingy with aid.

Foreign forces began leaving Afghanistan this year.

About 14,000 foreign troops will withdraw by the end of December, according to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen nations' drawdown plans. The United States is pulling out 10,000 service members this year; Canada withdrew 2,850 combat forces this summer; France and Britain will each send about 400 home; Poland is recalling 200; and Denmark and Slovenia are pulling out about 120 combined.

Troop cutbacks will be deeper next year, when an estimated 26,000 more will leave. That figure includes 23,000 Americans, 950 Germans, 600 more French, 500 additional Britons, 400 Poles, 290 Belgians, 156 Spaniards, 100 Swedes and 50 Finns.

Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the AP that the number of Marines in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan will drop "markedly" in 2012, and the role of those who stay will shift from countering the insurgency to training and advising Afghan security forces.

Amos declined to discuss the number of Marines expected to leave in 2012.

There are now about 19,400 Marines in Helmand, and that is scheduled to fall to about 18,500 by the end of this year.

"Am I OK with that? The answer is 'yes,'" Amos said. "We can't stay in Afghanistan forever."

"Will it work? I don't know. But I know we'll do our part."

Additional troop cuts or accelerated withdrawals are possible.

Many other countries, including Hungary and Italy, are finalizing their withdrawal schedules. Presidential elections in Europe and the European debt crisis also could speed up the pullout. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this week that Australia's training mission could be completed before the 2014 target date.

Back in June, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that when the Obama administration begins pulling troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. will resist a rush to the exists, "and we expect the same from our allies." Gates said it was critically important that a plan for winding down NATO's combat role by the end of 2014 did not squander gains made against the Taliban that were won at great cost in lives and money.

"The more U.S. forces draw down, the more it gives the green light for our international partners to also head for the exits," said Jeffrey Dressler, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. "There is a cyclical effect here that is hard to temper once it gets going."

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings Jr. said the cutbacks that have been announced will not affect the coalition's ability to fight the insurgency.

"We are getting more Afghans into the field and we are transferring more responsibility to them in many areas," Cummings said, adding that many leaders of the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Haqqani militant networks have been captured or killed.

Afghan security forces started taking the lead in seven areas in July. They soon will assume responsibility for many more regions as part of a gradual process that will put Afghans in charge of security across the nation by the end of 2014.

Some countries are lobbying to start transition as soon as possible in areas where they have their troops deployed — so they can go home, said a senior NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss transition. The official insisted that those desires were not driving decisions on where Afghan troops are taking the lead.

The official said that because they want to leave, a number of troop-contributing nations faced with declining public support at home have started working harder to get their areas ready to hand off to Afghan forces.

"The big question (after 2014) is if the Afghan security forces can take on an externally based insurgency with support from the Pakistani security establishment and all that entails," Dressler said. "I think they will have a real challenge on their hands if the U.S. and NATO countries do not address Pakistani sponsorship of these groups."

___

Lekic reported from Brussels. AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Helmand contributed to this report.

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  • fayncmike Nov 30, 2011

    ""Actually we went after Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with any of the events on 9/11. Zero, none, nada, zilch."

    Nobody said it did. We went into Iraq for entirely different reasons. You need to keep up.
    Ripcord"

    We went to Iraq because a depraved madman lied, cheated and cooked up artificial intelligence in order to further some degenerate, insane private agenda.

  • Scaramouche Nov 30, 2011

    "yes, they sponsored much of the trouble in Palestine and had started wars against Iran and Kuwait and their own ethic minorities."

    It's also worth noting that by and large the terrorists were hiding in the regions under the American no-fly zones.

  • Scaramouche Nov 30, 2011

    "did and the people have had religious nuts in control for long enough to know that they are empty liars"

    Think about it though, the only thing the Mulahs have to do to get the people behind them is blame America. Biggest reason any resistance/opposition movement has a tough time getting started. Tehy start to get traction, we "support" them, and the Mullahs rant abut it, and they people fall in line.

    "Take out the leaderships power and make it clear to that which replaces it that they better behave in a responsible manner to their people and the rest of the world or the same will happen to them."

    The age old questoin. What if the Democracy you helped birth elects an anti-American government? Take into account the inevitable increase in anti-American sentiment any such action would bring about, and the further deterioriation of American "street cred" in the international community, and I say at best such a move is extremely risky. More likely it is downright foolhardy.

  • Scaramouche Nov 30, 2011

    "I disagree."

    Fair enough.

    "Irans Military would evaporate like Sadaams"

    Military experts disagree, for many reasons. I can't think of one who makes this prediction. From what I remember of when I was in, and had bettter intel, I have to agree with them.

  • haggis basher Nov 30, 2011

    "Iraq had terrorists before we got there?"

    yes, they sponsored much of the trouble in Palestine and had started wars against Iran and Kuwait and their own ethic minorities.
    The problem with getting rid of Sadaam was that there was no natural successor regime. Iraq was created out of the remnents of the Ottoman Empire, it, like most Arab countries, doesn't have a national identity that supersedes ethnic or religious divisions.
    Why do you think the USA gave so much power to the States and separated Church from State? It was the only way to keep them together and give the country time to form a single identity....and even then it didn't really work too well as it was only 80 years before the civil war almost destroyed it with the modern equivalent of 5 million dead.

  • haggis basher Nov 30, 2011

    "We wouldn't even win a short war. Maybe a prolonged one, but it wouldn't be short. Iran is a completely different kettle of fish than Iraq. It would be more like invading Japan at the end of WWII."

    I disagree. Irans Military would evaporate like Sadaams did and the people have had religious nuts in control for long enough to know that they are empty liars
    The mistake not to make is to try to occupy the place. Take out the leaderships power and make it clear to that which replaces it that they better behave in a responsible manner to their people and the rest of the world or the same will happen to them.

  • Scaramouche Nov 30, 2011

    "And the fact is that during and immediate after 9/11 the AQ leadership was in Afghanistan (and later Pak). "

    Yes, Ripsy, and we wasted effort going into Iraq for personal revenge, instead of concentrating on getting the leadership, and it took years later, ana a Democratic President, to actually begin getting them.

  • Scaramouche Nov 30, 2011

    "Iran.....would make Iraq look like a Sunday drive. Sure you can win a short war but you can't occupy the place."

    We wouldn't even win a short war. Maybe a prolonged one, but it wouldn't be short. Iran is a completely different kettle of fish than Iraq. It would be more like invading Japan at the end of WWII.

  • Scaramouche Nov 30, 2011

    After review of Ripsy's mumbling I can only laugh at his foolishness. It's good to see he didn't let us down again.

  • granville93 Nov 30, 2011

    Really it depends on who is elected president. Another ploy by Obama.

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