The president Wednesday announced he will have the 33,000 troops associated with the 'West Point surge' pulled out of Afghanistan by next summer before September. This is the initial drawdown, according to senior administration officials on a conference call with reporters, and additional depletion in troop numbers will continue beyond next summer. 10,000 troops are scheduled to be out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, and the process will begin next month. The transition to complete Afghan lead is to be ready by 2014.
The administration said on the call the president is making the decision from a "position of strength," because the administration is satisfied it has "made substantial progress" on the objectives laid out in late 2009: denying al Qaeda a safe haven, reversing Taliban momentum, and training Afghan security forces.
"The tide of war is receding," Obama said. ""We have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat."
The administration said on the call that the speech also was an opportunity to acknowledge the tenth anniversary of 9/11, that the war in Iraq is winding down (100,000 troops have been removed), as is the war in Afghanistan.
Obama, in his speech, argued that his ordering of the West Point surge came because they feared the Taliban was gaining ground.
One of the arguments put forward by the administration on the call was that no serious terrorist threats to regions outside of Afghanistan have developed from there in the past seven or eight years, coming instead from Pakistan.
"Threat has come from Pakistan over past half dozen years or so, or longer," an official said.
The administration does not see the weakening of boots on the ground in the region as diminishing America's national security work there, saying they made progress in taking out key battlefield leaders, diminished ability to receive terrorist training in the area, and that a pullout would not disrupt the counterterrorism network the administration has in place.
The administration message on Pakistan remained unclear, with the relationship being called difficult and the administration's strategy being described as one that realizes the futures of Afghanistan and Pakistan were "interwoven"--yet the ability to draw troops out of Afghanistan would not affect U.S. efforts in the region.
Obama did say on Wednesday that the United States will not tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill Americans.
Obama also touched on Chicago hosting the NATO summit, and the administration said on the earlier call that the allies in the coalition would be able to really discuss the transition in the region during that time.
But Obama also shifted the focus back to the United States, chastising those extremes of wanting America involved everywhere militarily or to be isolationist. He launched into a kind of Obama doctrine, saying that America did not always need to "deploy large armies overseas" but rather rally international action, and used Libya as an example where, he said, American allies have a presence, although America does not have boots on the ground (not sure how good that makes U.S. allies feel).
He also chastised war spending, saying the U.S. has spent a trillion dollars in war in the last decade, and called instead for innovation for new jobs and building up infrastructure.
Under his administration, the U.S. has increased its national debt more than under the presidents from Washington to Reagan combined.