In a nationwide speech June 22 the president said he had ordered the military to remove 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and another 23,000 by September 2012. That leaves 68,000 U.S. soldiers still occupying the countrydouble the number when Obama took office. Washington invaded Afghanistan at the end of 2001 and together with NATO forces has been conducting military operations there ever since.
The day after Obamas announcement, Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan who will shortly become CIA director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the presidents decision was more aggressive in terms of the timeline than he had recommended. There is always a process of assessing risk, Petraeus said. He added that his small differences are nonetheless significant from a military commander point of view.
Adm. Michael Mullen, outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House of Representatives armed services committee that Obamas decisions incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. He added, More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course.
In a visit to Afghanistan in early June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is stepping down at the end of June, told troops that he would try to maximize combat capability. Id opt to keep the shooters and take the support out first. He said that the White House and Pentagon certainly dont want to precipitate a rush to the exit by allied governments in Europe, the Pacific, and Canada.
Ottawa is already in the process of withdrawing all of its 2,900 soldiers by the end of July. Paris says it will reduce its 4,000 troops in tandem with Washington. Berlin too says some of its 4,900 soldiers will be withdrawn later this year. London, with 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, has pulled out 200 troops, with more to follow shortly.
In his June 22 speech, Obama also made clear that Washington intends to continue and escalate armed drone attacks in Pakistan, which kill not only Taliban militants but also many civilians. In the seven weeks since a U.S. special forces hit squad acted as Osama bin Ladens judge, jury, and executioner, 18 drone air assaults have hit Pakistan, bringing to 212 the total such strikes since Obama took office. The latest two occurred June 27, killing at least 21 people.
NATO: a two-tiered alliance
Speaking in Brussels June 10, in what was his final address to a NATO gathering, Gates strongly rebuked Washingtons imperialist rivals in Europe for both a lack of will and a lack of resources in pursuing shared military objectives. NATO has become a two-tiered alliance, he said, between members who specialize in soft humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the hard combat missions. Many NATO members, he said, dont want to share the risks and costs.
Washington now accounts for 75 percent of total NATO military spending, Gates said, up from 50 percent in the 1980s.
Pointing to the war in Afghanistan, where some 40,000 non-U.S. troops are deployed, Gates criticized the inability to meet agreed upon commitments and wildly disparate contributions from different member states. Berlin and Paris, for example, have limited their troops to Kabul and northern Afghanistan, refusing to engage in combat in the south where fighting has been most intense.
We cannot afford to have some troop contributing nations pull out their forces on their own timeline in a way that undermines the mission, added Gates.
As to the NATO-led airstrikes against Libya, the outgoing defense secretary chastised European powers for similar shortcomingsin capability and will. While every NATO member voted for this military operation, fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission, Gates said.
NATO has conducted 4,700 airstrikes since operations began March 22. The bulk have been carried out by the imperialist governments of the United Kingdom and France. The regimes in Canada, Belgium, Norway, and Denmark are also participating, though Oslo has announced it is pulling out by August.
Gates took European capitals to task for failing to meet agreed-upon NATO benchmarks for defense spending. As a result, he said, We have the spectacle of an air operations center designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150 . [M]any allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference.
On June 20 British prime minister David Cameron sharply rebuked Royal Air Force Marshal Sir Simon Bryant and Royal Navy Adm. Sir Mark Stanhope for publicly warning of dire consequences for the UKs air combat capacities if airstrikes in Libya continue beyond September. You do the fighting and Ill do the talking, Cameron said at a news conference. The aerial assaults will go on as long as is necessary, the prime minister asserted.
U.S. warplanes and drones have carried out airstrikes against Libya at least 90 times since handing over command to NATO in April, U.S. military officials told the New York Times. And Washington carries out 25 percent of all air surveillance flights, as well as most aerial refueling operations.
U.S., NATO out of Afghanistan!
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