NYT: Obama team mulls faster Afghan withdrawal

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talks to troops in Afghanistan
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks to troops at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Walton in Kandahar, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011.

Some members of President Obama's newly appointed national security team believe American troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan more rapidly than previously discussed, according to a report in The New York Times.

Officials from the military and the Obama administration, who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity because the president is still deciding how big a troop reduction is wise for this summer, said new "strategic considerations" had prompted the revised thinking.

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Special report: Afghanistan

Those considerations include the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, and the spiraling costs of war for the U.S. taxpayer.

According to the report, the beginning of the gradual U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was expected to begin in July with the pullout of about 3,000 to 5,000 troops. The officials wouldn't tell the paper how greatly the new suggestions varied from those figures.

Obama was to meet his top advisers Monday for a monthly briefing on the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan - a meeting which the Times says won't directly determine the pace of the withdrawal, but will likely shape the decision making on that key point.

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has argued on various occasions that a hasty withdrawal of combat forces from the nation could lead rapidly to instability. The outgoing defense chief was in Afghanistan on Monday to meet U.S. troops -- his last planned visit in his current role, reports CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, Gates reiterated his stance that a strong U.S. troop presence was essential to stabilizing Afghanistan.

"I would try to maximize my combat capability as long as I can," said Gates. "I think that's a no-brainer."

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, asked Monday by "Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill about the New York Times' report, made it fairly clear the military alliance wasn't looking to hasten its own withdrawal plans.

"We have already laid out a clear timetable for a gradual transfer," said Rasmussen, calling NATO's plan to hand over about 25 percent of Afghanistan's territory to national security forces this summer, "a significant start".

There are currently about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 30,000 sent as part of a "troop surge" sought by Gates about a year and a half ago. Separate time tables will eventually dictate when the surge troops are brought home, and when the 70,000 troops who were there already get to leave Afghanistan

The president decided in May to send CIA Director Leon Panetta to the Pentagon to succeed Gates as defense secretary, and tapped Afghanistan war commander Gen. David Petraeus to replace Panetta at the CIA.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.


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