Washington: President Barack Obama`s drawdown in Afghanistan will begin slowly, with the departure of just 800 National Guard troops this summer, followed by some 800 Marines in the fall, US officials said on Wednesday.
The details provided by Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the outgoing No 2 commander of US forces in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials offered the most detailed look so far at how the US military intends to carry out the withdrawal ordered by Obama in June.
Facing growing political opposition to the nearly decade-old war, Obama announced plans to pull out about a third of the 100,000 US forces in Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012 -- a faster timetable than the military had recommended.
The first 10,000 troops will come home by the end of the year. But Obama left the details up to his commanders.
"We have begun the process of working ourselves out of a job -- meaning we will hand over the lead to the Afghans gradually, over time," said Rodriguez, speaking to reporters in a video-conference from Afghanistan.
The Pentagon`s small initial drawdown leaves as many as 8,400 troops to withdraw in the last few months of 2011, and Rodriguez said he expected commanders to wait until later in the fall before deciding how to thin out those forces.
Jeffrey Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington DC-based think tank, said Rodriguez`s announcement was within expectations -- particularly given the need to keep the bulk of troops in place until the end of the year.
"What the commanders are trying to do is conserve as much combat power as they can until the end of the fighting season," Dressler said.