Obama to Announce 34,000 Troops to Come Home
By Jake Tapper
(CNN) — In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Obama will announce that by this time next year, 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have returned home, according to sources with knowledge of the president’s speech.
The move will reduce the number of U.S. forces in the country by more than half. There are now about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
A Washington Post poll out Tuesday morning shows that 80% of registered voters support the president’s policy to end the war in Afghanistan.
In January, Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington, where they agreed to accelerate the military transition in Afghanistan. Afghan forces will take the lead in combat missions throughout the country starting in spring, instead of midyear as was previously expected.
The White House has been considering a range of troop levels to remain in Afghanistan once the combat mission officially ends at the end of 2014, from as many as 15,000 troops to none at all.
Those options were submitted by Gen. John Allen, who until recently was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Allen’s final days as the top commander were marred by an investigation linked to the sex scandal that prompted the resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director.
Allen was cleared of allegations that he wrote potentially inappropriate e-mails to a woman involved in the scandal. He is now the nominee to become the top NATO commander and was replaced in Afghanistan this week by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.
Dunford will oversee the final two years of the war and the withdrawal of nearly all troops.
On Sunday, at a change-of-command ceremony in Kabul, Dunford remarked on the job ahead.
“Today is not about change, it’s about continuity,” he said, alongside Allen and other senior NATO and Afghan officials.
“I’ll endeavor to continue the momentum of the campaign and support the people of Afghanistan as they seize the opportunity for a brighter future.”
Dunford has a reputation among Marines as a thoughtful, calm leader with more than 22 months under his belt of commanding troops in Iraq.
These changes come amid debate about impending budget cuts that some say would have grave consequences for the military. Sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts would be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending.
More than $500 billion would be cut from the Defense Department and other national security agencies, with the rest cut on the domestic side in areas such as national parks, federal courts, the FBI, food inspections and housing aid.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been a harsh critic of the cuts.
“For those of you who have ever seen ‘Blazing Saddles,’ ” he said in a recent speech at Georgetown University, there “is the scene of the sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to establish law and order. That is sequestration.”