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U.S. officials mulling quicker Afghan pullout: report

03-14-2012 09:04 BJT

WASHINGTON, March 13 (Xinhua) -- The Obama administration is discussing an accelerated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, possibly pulling out an extra 20,000 troops by 2013, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The debate, which has been going on for weeks by senior White House officials, is underscored by recent U.S. setbacks in Afghanistan, including violent protests by Afghans over the burning of copies of the Quran by NATO troops last month and the shooting rampage apparently by a U.S. soldier that killed 16 Afghan civilians last weekend, the report said.

Nearly 90,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by September.

There has been no schedule set for the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000, though the president has set 2014 as the deadline for pulling out all troops and handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces.

At least three options are now under consideration, the report quoted officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department as saying.

One plan, backed by National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, would be to withdraw at least 10,000 more troops by the end of December and then 10,000 to 20,000 more by June 2013.

Vice President Joe Biden, who has long favored a more narrowly focused counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan, supports a bigger withdrawal that would reduce the bulk of the troops around the same time the mission shifts to a support role, leaving behind Special Operations teams to conduct targeted raids.

Obama's military commanders, meanwhile, want to maintain troops in Afghanistan as long as possible. If cuts have to be made, the commanders favor making them at the end of 2013, after the fighting season is largely finished.

The weekend shooting spree has raised speculation of an expedited U.S. withdrawal, though Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insist the incident will not change the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

In an interview broadcast Monday, Obama warned against "a rush for the exits" in Afghanistan.

"It's important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way, so that we don't end up having to go back in," he said.

Panetta told reporters Monday that the recent tragic events in Afghanistan should not derail the overall International Security Assistance Force objectives.

"We cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy," he said.

The Pentagon was awaiting plans from Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to bring home the remaining 23,000 troops sent to Afghanistan during the 2009 surge, the Pentagon chief said Tuesday, adding that the administration would review those plans when they were completed.

Editor:Wang Lingfei |Source: Xinhua

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