WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama announced June 22 he would bring home 33,000 troops from Afghanistan in the next year, including 10,000 in 2011.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land expressed concern, however, that such a timetable would undermine the nearly decade-long effort to defeat terrorist forces and establish security in the southwestern Asian country.
The Obama plan, if carried out, will match a promise the president made in December 2009, when he announced the addition of 30,000 American troops to overcome uprisings after eight years of war against al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. At the time, Obama said the first of those troops would begin leaving the country in mid-2011. The withdrawals will begin in July.
“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead,” the president said in a nationally televised speech from the White House. “Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”
Obama’s plan does not reportedly satisfy the wishes of U.S. military commanders. They had asked for most of the troops sent as part of the surge to remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2012, The Washington Post reported.
Land said he is “very concerned that President Obama is ignoring the advice of General Petraeus and is drawing down the number of troops too quickly. We have sacrificed too much blood and treasure in Afghanistan to take the short-sighted and foolish view now. We finally have the right strategy after eight years, and we are winning the war. We finally have the right general. We should listen to him.”
Gen. David Petraeus took over as commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July 2010.
“We don’t want to repeat the mistake we made in Vietnam,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. In the Vietnam War, the United States — after Gen. Creighton Abrams replaced Gen. William Westmoreland as commander in 1968 — “had won the war by 1973,” Land said, “and then gave it away by leaving our South Vietnamese allies high and dry without even gasoline for their tanks and ammunition for their guns.”
In Congress, a mixture of assessments greeted the president’s plan.
Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., disagreed with Obama, saying in a written release he is worried the president’s plan “poses an unnecessary risk to the hard-won gains that our troops have made thus far in Afghanistan and to the decisive progress that must still be made.”
“This is not the ‘modest’ withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated,” said McCain, who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
Meanwhile, House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was dissatisfied for a different reason. “It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than [Obama] laid out — and we will continue to press for a better outcome,” the California Democrat said in a written statement.
Speaker of the House John Boehner said he hoped the president would remain flexible on troop levels and pay heed to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan. “We all want to bring our troops home as quickly as possible, but we must ensure that the gains we’ve made are not jeopardized,” the Ohio Republican said in a written release.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., called the plan “a critical step in the right direction.”
In his 15-minute address, Obama acknowledged “huge challenges remain.”
He said al-Qaida “remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks, But we have put [al-Qaida] on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.”
Afghanistan’s own troops have increased by more than 100,000, and the Afghan government will be responsible for providing security for its people, the president said. He said the United States will not “try to make Afghanistan a perfect place,” but its goal is to eliminate all safe havens for terrorists in that country and Pakistan.
In closing, Obama said it is time for America “to focus on nation building here at home.”
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.