| ||Obama gets ahead of himself on Afghanistan pull-out|
By Josh Gerstein
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President Barack Obama came out swinging at his Republican rival over the issue of Afghanistan on Saturday and Sunday, but may have swung a bit too hard, making claims more sweeping and definitive than what he's previously said on the subject.
After slamming GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for ignoring the issue during his speech to the Republican National Convention last week, Obama said he had put the U.S. on a sure path to military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"I put forward a specific plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We are in the process of doing that right now," Obama said Saturday during a speech in Sioux City, Iowa. "And when I say I'm going to bring them home, you know they're going to come home."
During a stop Sunday in Colorado, the president was even more categorical, seeming to promise a pull out of 100 percent of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by late 2014.
"We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I've set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014," Obama told an audience in Boulder.
In fact, Obama's plan for Afghanistan does not call for all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. A yet to be determined number of U.S. troops are expected to remain there, with details subject to negotiation with the Afghan government.
In addition, while Obama called his plan "specific" and said that by the end of this month "we will have brought 33,000 of our troops home," he has yet to announce or apparently decide on the rate or pace at which the remaining roughly 66,000 troops will exit.
"President Obama intends to maintain the downward trajectory of our troop numbers as he has announced. He will not make specific decisions of further drawdowns before the current drawdown is complete in September 2012," a senior administration official told reporters in May as Obama jetted to Afghanistan to sign a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "But you all heard [Obama] say that reductions will continue at a steady pace. When he makes these decisions, he will do so based on our national interest, taking into account the advice of our military and in consultation with Afghan and ISAF partners."
In the same briefing, one of the last detailed White House pronouncements in Afghanistan, the official said the U.S. was discussing with the Afghans a continuing U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
"We do not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan. Instead, this agreement commits Afghanistan to provide U.S. personnel access to, and use of, Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond. The agreement also provides for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014 for two specific purposes -- training Afghan forces and targeting the remnants of al Qaeda," the official said.
It should be noted that Obama's prescription for Afghanistan has certainly been more specific than Romney's. He has criticized aspects of Obama's policy, such as the announced target date for handing security over to Afghan forces. However, Romney has been vague about whether he would pull troops out more quickly than Obama or keep them there longer. He's also suggested he would defer to the judgement of military leaders on how to proceed.
The president also kept swinging hard at Romney over his ill-defined position. "Governor Romney had nothing to say about Afghanistan last week. Yes, he hasn't offered a plan for the 33,000 troops who will have come home from this war by the end of this month," Obama said. (It was unclear precisely what plan the president expected Romney to offer for those who are home or about to come home.)