Afghanistan troop withdrawal ahead

Wednesday night from the Oval Office, President Obama will announce his timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

What he says will affect hundreds of families and their loved ones.

We know the draw-down of troops will begin next month. What we don't know is how many will be coming home.

The President has been given a range of options by General David Patraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan.

The White House says the President is still weighing those options.

There are 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Three times the number since President Obama took office.

The 30,000-troop surge he announced in 2009 came with the condition they would start coming home in July of 2011, next month.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says it's not just conditions on the ground that factor into the president's decision.

“There are a lot of reservations in the Congress about the war in Afghanistan and our level of commitment, there are concerns among the American people who are tired of a decade of war,” Gates said.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution recently returned from Afghanistan.

He says it is unlikely the surge troops will be among the first to come out.

“That option is not being considered for the near term. It's a choice probably between 5,000 out this year, and 15,000 out this year,” O'Hanlon said.

Tony Perry of the L.A. Times, who's been embedded with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the actual fighting force will not be degraded.

“Are they gonna be trigger pullers? Are they gonna be people who go out and push the contact every day? I think only a portion of them,” Perry said.

“It does not appear that large numbers of Marines, maybe no Marines at all, will be in this first group to come home,” said Perry.

Perry believes most will be elements of the U.S. Army who are in a support capacity, rather than the trigger pullers.

The Army is handling 80% of fighting in Afghanistan, and the President will visit Fort Drum in New York after his address.

“He's gotta look at those folks, those families, right in the eye and say here's where it is, we're gonna bring some home but we've gotta leave others there. I mean that's the way to do it. Go right to the people directly involved,” said Perry.

The military campaign heading into the heavy summer fighting season looks a lot better today than when the President took office.

Osama Bin Laden is dead.  Al Qaeda has been seriously degraded, and the Taliban has been turned back.

Some advisors want the President to bring most of the troops home within a year.

Others want a token withdrawal while keeping combat power in place for another few fighting seasons, and still others say set an arbitrary deadline and let the military set the pace of the drawn-down. We'll find out on Wednesday.

Twenty-seven Senators, Democrats and Republicans sent the President a letter last week pressing for a shift in policy and troop cuts.

Given our successes they said it's time to reduce forces, and that the costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits.

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