By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 – President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw the 33,000 U.S. surge forces from Afghanistan by the end of next summer is consistent with the policy he established in 2009, the Pentagon’s top policy official said today.
Obama was “true to his word” last night when he announced that 10,000 U.S. service members would leave Afghanistan by the end of this year and the remaining 23,000 from the surge would leave by the end of summer in 2012, Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the House Armed Services Committee.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates “believes that this decision provides our commanders with the right mix of flexibility, resources and time to continue building on our progress on the ground,” she said.
Even after the 33,000 service members redeploy, about 68,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, Flournoy said. “That’s more than twice the number as when President Obama took office,” she said. “Clearly, this is not a ‘rush to the exits’ that will jeopardize our security gains.”
The growth and increasing capabilities of Afghan security forces is allowing for the U.S. drawdown, Flournoy said. Afghanistan is on target to field an additional 55,400 of its security forces by the end of August 2012, she said, allowing for more Afghan and coalition forces in the fight than there are today.
“Our strategy in Afghanistan is working as it was designed,” Flournoy said. “The momentum has shifted to coalition and Afghan forces, and together we have degraded the Taliban’s capability and achieved significant security gains.”
Those gains have been achieved mostly in the southern part of Afghanistan, Flournoy said, and they , “are enabling key political initiatives to make progress.
“We have begun a transition process that will, ultimately, put Afghans in the lead for security nationwide by 2014,” she said.
Flournoy, speaking alongside Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said efforts to reintegrate insurgent fighters into Afghan society are beginning to gain traction and U.S. officials are discussing a long-term, strategic partnership with the Afghan government “to signal our enduring commitment to the Afghan people for regional peace and stability.”
The United States and its 47 partner nations in Afghanistan are standing by the commitment they made at the Lisbon Summit in November to “ensure we leave behind an Afghanistan that no longer serves as a base for terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies,” Flournoy said.
In the months ahead, she said, “We will be confronted by an enemy that will try to regain the momentum and territory that it has lost” to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces.
However, Flournoy added, that enemy is facing an Afghan population that is increasingly benefitting from security and self-governance. The greatest progress, so far, she said, is “from the bottom up,” with local government showing the most success.
Looking two to three years out, Flournoy said, the Taliban are controlling less territory and receiving less support from residents.
“Any way you slice it, things are getting worse for them, not better,” she said.