40,000 Troops to Leave Afghanistan by End of 2012

Drawdown plans announced by the U.S. and
more than a dozen other nations will shrink the foreign military
footprint in Afghanistan by 40,000 troops at the close of next year,
leaving Afghan forces increasingly on the frontlines of the decade-long

The United States is
pulling out the most – 33,000 by the end of 2012. That’s one-third of
101,000 American troops who were in Afghanistan in June, the peak of
U.S. military presence in the war, according to figures provided by the

Others in the 49-nation coalition
have announced withdrawal plans too, while insisting they are not
rushing to leave. Many nations have vowed to keep troops in Afghanistan
to continue training the Afghan police and army in the years to come.
And many have pledged to keep sending aid to the impoverished country
after the international combat mission ends in 2014.

Still, the exit is making Afghans nervous.

fear their nation could plunge into civil war once the foreign forces
go home. Their confidence in the Afghan security forces has risen, but
they don’t share the U.S.-led coalition’s stated belief that the Afghan
soldiers and police will be ready to secure the entire nation in three
years. Others worry the Afghan economy will collapse if foreigners leave
and donors get stingy with aid.

Foreign forces began leaving Afghanistan this year.

14,000 foreign troops will withdraw by the end of December, according
to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen nations’ drawdown
plans. The United States is pulling out 10,000 service members this
year; Canada withdrew 2,850 combat forces this summer; France and
Britain will each send about 400 home; Poland is recalling 200; and
Denmark and Slovenia are pulling out about 120 combined.

cutbacks will be deeper next year, when an estimated 26,000 more will
leave. That figure includes 23,000 Americans, 950 Germans, 600 more
French, 500 additional Britons, 400 Poles, 290 Belgians, 156 Spaniards,
100 Swedes and 50 Finns.

Gen. James F. Amos,
commandant of the Marine Corps, told the AP that the number of Marines
in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan will drop “markedly” in
2012, and the role of those who stay will shift from countering the
insurgency to training and advising Afghan security forces.

Amos declined to discuss the number of Marines expected to leave in 2012.

There are now about 19,400 Marines in Helmand, and that is scheduled to fall to about 18,500 by the end of this year.

“Am I OK with that? The answer is `yes,'” Amos said. “We can’t stay in Afghanistan forever.”

“Will it work? I don’t know. But I know we’ll do our part.”

Additional troop cuts or accelerated withdrawals are possible.

other countries, including Hungary and Italy, are finalizing their
withdrawal schedules. Presidential elections in Europe and the European
debt crisis also could speed up the pullout. Australian Prime Minister
Julia Gillard said this week that Australia’s training mission could be
completed before the 2014 target date.

Back in
June, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that when the Obama
administration begins pulling troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. will
resist a rush to the exists, “and we expect the same from our allies.”
Gates said it was critically important that a plan for winding down
NATO’s combat role by the end of 2014 did not squander gains made
against the Taliban that were won at great cost in lives and money.

more U.S. forces draw down, the more it gives the green light for our
international partners to also head for the exits,” said Jeffrey
Dressler, a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of
War in Washington. “There is a cyclical effect here that is hard to
temper once it gets going.”

U.S. Army Lt. Col.
Jimmie Cummings Jr. said the cutbacks that have been announced will not
affect the coalition’s ability to fight the insurgency.

are getting more Afghans into the field and we are transferring more
responsibility to them in many areas,” Cummings said, adding that many
leaders of the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Haqqani militant networks have
been captured or killed.

Afghan security
forces started taking the lead in seven areas in July. They soon will
assume responsibility for many more regions as part of a gradual process
that will put Afghans in charge of security across the nation by the
end of 2014.

Some countries are lobbying to
start transition as soon as possible in areas where they have their
troops deployed – so they can go home, said a senior NATO official, who
spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss transition. The official
insisted that those desires were not driving decisions on where Afghan
troops are taking the lead.

The official said
that because they want to leave, a number of troop-contributing nations
faced with declining public support at home have started working harder
to get their areas ready to hand off to Afghan forces.

big question (after 2014) is if the Afghan security forces can take on
an externally based insurgency with support from the Pakistani security
establishment and all that entails,” Dressler said. “I think they will
have a real challenge on their hands if the U.S. and NATO countries do
not address Pakistani sponsorship of these groups.”


Lekic reported from Brussels. AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Helmand contributed to this report.