FORWARD OPERATING BASE PASAB, Afghanistan — President Barack Obama will decide in the coming weeks how many American troops to send home from Afghanistan next year. A major factor in his decision will be the question of how successful U.S. troops have been in preparing the Afghans to secure their country at bases like this one, located in one of the country's most violent areas — the birthplace of the Taliban.
There have been calls in Congress for Obama to increase the size of a planned drawdown of U.S. forces before the end of summer 2013, when the Afghan military is supposed to take the lead in security across the country. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well, has suggested he wants the drawdown accelerated.
"We are working to make this transition of security happen sooner. We want all the foreign forces to come out of the villages and go to their bases so the Afghan forces can carry out security," Karzai said last week.
But too large a pullout too soon could undermine the fight against the Taliban insurgency if Afghan forces are not fully prepared. It is widely thought that Gen. John Allen, the top military commander in Afghanistan, and his senior staff want to keep a large force in place for the summer fighting season, before international forces move into an entirely back-up and training role behind the Afghan forces by the start of autumn — an event known as "Milestone 13."
Obama is expected to decide on the size of the withdrawal after meeting with Karzai in Washington in early January. Their talks will also be key on determining what the U.S. military's role will be in Afghanistan after December 2014, when the foreign combat mission is set to end and almost all international troops are scheduled to leave. The U.S. currently has 66,000 thousand troops in Afghanistan out of an international force totaling about 102,000.