US lawmakers debate pace of troops drawdown in Afghanistan

"A significant reduction in our troop level this year would send a critical signal to Afghan leaders that we mean it when we when we say our commitment is not open-ended and that they need to be urgently focused on preparing Afghanistan's security forces to assume security responsibility for all of Afghanistan," said Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.

"The more that Afghan security forces do, the better are the chances of success, because Taliban's biggest nightmare is facing a large, effective Afghan Army, already respected by the Afghan people, in control of Afghanistan’s security," he said.

While the White House was tight lipped on the actual troop reduction, senior administration officials said it is expected to be about 30,000 by the year 2012 with about 10,000 troops by the year end.

The first troop from Afghanistan would start withdrawing next month.
Senator John McCain, ranking Republican in the Senate Armed Services Committee, hoped that the drawdown would be modest so as to maximize America's ability to lock in the hard-won gains of its troops through the next fighting season.

He hoped that new Defence Secretary Leon Panetta will support 'modest' reductions and take no action that would undermine the hard-won gains in Afghanistan.

Ahead of President Obama's speech on a potential drawdown in Afghanistan, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P 'Buck' McKeon praised the hard-won gains made by US and coalition forces but cautioned against any drawdown that would arrest strategic momentum there.

"My position on the war effort remains consistent. Afghanistan's stability is vital to our national security. Any removal of forces should be based on ground conditions and consistent with the advice of our senior military leaders," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Obama is weighing a number of options, before making an announcement.

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