Pentagon officials have warned that drawing down US troops before Afghan forces are ready to take over the fight against radical Islamist insurgents could threaten the “fragile and reversible gains” that the US military says it has made against the Taliban, particularly in southern Afghanistan.
But the president's timetable offers some flexibility for US commanders. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had lobbied for a more modest drawdown of 3,000 to 5,000 troops by year’s end, made that point in a statement supporting Obama’s plan.
“Over the past 18 months our troops have made tremendous progress degrading the capability of the Taliban while enhancing the Afghan security forces. It is critical that we continue to aggressively prosecute that strategy,” he said. “I support the President’s decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion.”