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White House / National Security

Liveblogging President Obama's Afghanistan Speech

photo of Rebecca Kaplan
June 22, 2011
8:54 p.m. Alright, folks, that's it for the night. Keep checking in at www.nationaljournal.com for more analysis tonight and tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading.
8:46 p.m. Ron Fournier weighs in on Obama's speech: he had an eye toward the 2012 election, paying close attention to voters' desires to start fixing America at home -- not Afghanistan. Read it here.
8:34 p.m. On the other hand, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wanted more troops out. Here's what she had to say:
"Tonight, President Obama made it clear: we are now beginning the process of bringing our troops home and ending the war in Afghanistan.

“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 the President laid out – and we will continue to press for a better outcome.  Concluding this war will enable us to reduce the deficit and focus fuller attention on the priorities of the American people: creating jobs and investing in our nation’s future by building a strong, thriving economy for our children.

“Congress will continue to perform the oversight responsibilities critical to ensuring a successful withdrawal as soon as possible.  We will maintain our commitment and gratitude to our men and women in uniform and their families, who have done everything asked of them with courage and patriotism.”

8:33 p.m. House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer, D-M.D., doesn't really take a position:
“This evening, President Obama announced that he will make a significant drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer.

“For almost a decade, American troops have served bravely in Afghanistan. Their efforts have helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden and the destruction, to a great degree, of al-Qaeda’s capability to plan and launch attacks against Americans from Afghanistan. These were our original objectives in Afghanistan, and they have been largely achieved. Our struggle against terrorists who would do Americans harm is certainly not over. But now is a time to consider how the threats against Americans have changed, and how we can most effectively defeat the terrorists behind those threats.

 

“That’s why this matter needs to be under continuing review as we work toward the Afghan people and government taking responsibility for their nation’s security and stability. It is crucial that we fight global terrorism both smarter and harder, and I will continue to advocate for an Afghanistan policy that helps us do so.”

8:30 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committe chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., was supportive of Obama's statement, though he says he believes a larger drawdown would have been appropriate. Here's his statement: 

“The president’s decision represents a positive development, although in my view the conditions on the ground justify an even larger drawdown of U.S. troops this year than the president announced tonight. I will continue to advocate for an accelerated drawdown in the months ahead, and for enhanced training and partnering with Afghan forces, because only they can provide durable security for their nation.

“The conditions justifying a larger drawdown include the progress U.S. and Afghan troops and our allies have made to improve security in Afghanistan; the faster than expected growth of the Afghan security forces; the death of Osama bin Laden and the decreasing number of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan; and the need to transition as quickly as possible to Afghan responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to increase the chances for long-term success of the mission there.”

8:26 p.m. Yochi Dreazen identifies two other highlights of the speech worth our attention:

- Presidential confirmation of peace talks with the Taliban, along with a more optimistic assessment of the possibility of progress than had been expressed by other officials; and

- The hint of more raids to come to Pakistan

8:22 p.m. Like McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was looking for a more gradual troop withdrawal. Here's what he had to say to CNN right after the speech:
"I think we're creating momentum to undercut the counterinsurgency strategy and we're going to counterterrorism strategy too soon. I worry that our allies will follow suit. Will they say America is leaving in large numbers by next summer? Will they accelerate their footprint in terms of leaving? Will Republicans say I had a lot of confidence in General Petraeus' plan but this adjustment in my view makes General Petraeus' original plan harder to achieve and unnecessarily risky? And will they say if we're going to not be successful, lets end it sooner?"
More on Petraeus: "If his judgment was overruled in a substantial way, I think that's a huge mistake. I'm not a military commander. I'm a military lawyer. I know that Senator Obama was dead wrong about Iraq. I know that Senator Biden was dead wrong about Iraq. What I fear and I'm not sure that this is going to become a reality, is that because of the war wariness of this country, we have taken a strategy that I had a lot of confidence in and compromised it in a way that I think may have eventually doomed it to fail.”

8:18 p.m. A statement from outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates in support of Obama's decision: "Over the past 18 months our troops have made tremendous progress degrading the capability of the Taliban while enhancing the Afghan security forces. It is critical that we continue to aggressively prosecute that strategy. I support the President’s decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion."

8:08 p.m.: Our news story on the speech, by NJ's George Condon. Read it here.

8:07 p.m.: NJ's Yochi Dreazen writes: "The most important line in the speech so far was the bit which hinted that there would be more withdrawals next year even after the last surge troops depart."

8:05 p.m. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, offers the following statement on Obama's announcement:

"Succeeding in Afghanistan – and preventing al Qaeda and the Taliban from using the country as a safe haven from which to launch attacks on the U.S. and our allies – is critically important to the safety and security of our country.  While the conditions remain difficult, the counterinsurgency strategy implemented by General Petraeus has made significant improvements in security on the ground and allowed the Afghan government to start making progress in meeting the needs of the Afghan people.  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. 

"I am pleased the President recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount.  Continuing to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates.  It’s important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant.  It is my hope that the President will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground as we move forward.  Congress will hold the Administration accountable for ensuring that the pace and scope of the drawdown does not undermine the progress we’ve made thus far.

“There is no doubt this conflict has tested the resolve of our nation, and I want to express gratitude to the American people for their faithful commitment to our troops and their mission.  As this operation enters its next phase, it is imperative that our Commander-in-Chief continues to explain why seeing it through to a successful conclusion is vital to our national interests.  Lastly, I want to reiterate how much we appreciate the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, our diplomats, and their families are making every day.  We can never forget their service to our country.”

8:02 p.m. Obama is speaking now. Here are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

"Good evening. Nearly ten years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor.  This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security – one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives. 

"In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, our focus shifted. A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there.  By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year. But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive. Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda, and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.

"For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.

"Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. 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. 

"We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have tak

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