Ahead of policy deliberations in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued for a modest approach to the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan that will begin next month. He favors the removal of support forces in a strategy that would leave as much “combat power” in place as possible until the war’s end. “If it were up to me I’d leave the shooters until last,” Gates said.

Exactly when the last American forces will leave Afghanistan remains a mystery to the American public. Conflict between NATO forces and the Taliban shows no sign of waning. May was the most lethal month for Western troops so far this year, and the Taliban remains eager to claim responsibility for the crash of any alliance aircraft; it alleged it shot down a NATO chopper, killing two Western servicemen, during Gates’ visit to Afghanistan. The defense secretary is arguing that a sharp drawdown of American forces would encourage U.S. allies to withdraw their own troops earlier than they should. –ARK

From the Los Angeles Times:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates argued Sunday for keeping combat units in place and removing as many support troops as possible when the U.S. begins its promised drawdown of forces in Afghanistan next month.

… The Defense secretary, on a farewell visit to troops before his retirement, later clarified to reporters that, while the drawdown will include both combat and support units, it made sense to keep as much “combat power” in place as possible to preserve and extend fragile security gains U.S. officials say have been achieved in Afghanistan in recent months.

… President Obama’s troop decision will be one of the last major Afghanistan debates involving Gates, who has announced he is stepping down at the end of the month. Analysts expect an initial withdrawal of between 2,000 and 3,000 troops. There are currently nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, making up about two-thirds of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force.

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