Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta fields questions from the media on a flight to Kyrgystan, March 12, 2012, regarding the American soldier who is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, most of them children, and then burning many of the bodies, on Sunday in southern Kandahar province. (AP Photo/Scott Olson, Pool)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is only beginning to calculate the pace of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan beyond this summer, facing an endgame fraught with political risk and complicated by shocking setbacks like the alleged U.S. slaughter of Afghan civilians.
At stake is not only President Barack Obama’s pledge to prevent Afghanistan from reverting to the terrorist haven it was before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but also his commitment to wind down the war while crafting a long-term security relationship with the Afghans.
U.S. military commanders want to keep as many troops in the country as possible until the Dec. 31, 2014, target date for having all combat forces out. They fear a too-rapid pullout would risk surrendering the security gains they have made in recent years.
But the White House faces the prospect of intensifying political pressure to end the military mission, especially after events such as the burning of Muslim holy books by U.S. troops last month that triggered a wave of Afghan violence, including the killings of at least six U.S. troops by Afghan troops.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., a top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, is among those calling for a faster withdrawal.
“It is time to bring our troops home, and, while the president has laid out a responsible path to do so, we should Login to read more