Military leaders and President Obama’s civilian advisers are girding for battle over the size and pace of the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate
At a meeting of his war cabinet this month, "the president made it clear that he wants a meaningful drawdown to start in July,” said one of the officials, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.
The divergent views about the withdrawal illustrate the unresolved tensions between Obama’s military and civilian advisers over the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a failing war
. Although military officials contend that the surge has enabled U.S. forces to blunt the Taliban in key areas over the past several months, White House officials remain skeptical that those gains will survive without the presence of American troops and without U.S. financial aid
Complicating the debate is growing concern in Washington about the war’s cost, which is estimated to reach $120 billion
this year, and polls that show increasing disenchantment, even among Republicans, with a mission that has turned into a complicated nation-building
As both sides prepare for what they expect to be a vigorous debate, they are seeking ways to achieve their favored outcome by limiting what the other can do
. For the military, that means crafting a narrow set of choices
, because there is general agreement that reduction numbers need to originate in the field
Two senior military officials said one set of options being developed by staff officers in Kabul involves three choices
: the removal of almost no forces; the withdrawal of a few thousand support personnel
, including headquarters staff, engineers and logisticians; and the pullout of a brigade’s worth of troops
— about 5,000 personnel— by culling a battalion of Marines in Helmand province that was added after the surge, a contingent of soldiers training Afghan security forces and an Army infantry battalion in either the country’s east or far west.