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Huntsman calls for Afghan troop withdrawal

debate GOP
Republican presidential candidates from left, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman pose for a photo before a Republican presidential debate in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman on Tuesday called for a swift and significant drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan, sparring with fellow candidate Mitt Romney on the matter and calling for "an honest conversation in this country about the sacrifices that have been made over nearly 10 years."

Huntsman, in Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate, which CNN co-sponsored with the America Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, argued that America would be better served if just 10,000 or 15,000 American troops were in stationed in Afghanistan for purposes of intelligence gathering and Special Forces response capabilities.

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But, he argued, "We don't need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan."

"We haven't done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan," he said. "And I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today."

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"Are you suggesting, governor, that we just take all our troops out next week or what -- what's your proposal?" asked fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

"I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don't need 100,000 troops," Huntsman responded. "We need a presence on the ground that is more akin to 10,000 or 15,000. That will serve our interests in terms of intelligence gathering and special forces response capability. And we need to prepare for a world, not just in South Asia, but, indeed, in every corner of the world in which counter-terrorism is going to be in front of us for as far as the eye can see into the 21st century."

Romney argued that commanders on the ground are opposed to an immediate drawdown of all troops -- and that "the decision to pull our troops out before that, they believe, would put at risk the extraordinary investment of treasure and blood which has been sacrificed by the American military."

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President Obama announced in June his plans to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by fall of next year, marking the beginning of the end of an increasingly unpopular war.

Some have argued, though, that the drawdown could be a destabilizing force in a country whose political situation remains tenuous.

"This is not time for America to cut and run," Romney said. "We have been in for 10 years. We are winding down. The Afghan troops are picking up the capacity to secure their country. And the mission is pretty straightforward, and that is to allow the Afghan people to have a sovereign nation not taken over by the Taliban."

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