Reading The Afghan Draw Down Tea Leaves

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President Obama spent weeks in 2009 developing an Afghan battle plan that could win consensus from his senior generals. The centerpiece was a pledge to begin drawing down troops in July 2011. But it was never clear that Obama would be able to keep the consensus as that date approached. From the beginning, many in the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, hinted that the commitment to draw down might be far more symbolic than substantive.

Now we know that President Obama will announce his decision on Wednesday. TIME’s Mark Thompson, over at Battleland, reports on just what the Pentagon tea leaf readers are expecting to hear.

Pentagon officials are seeking a minimal cut of 3,000 to 5,000 support troops by the end of this year, although many believe the President will double that, to 10,000. Then, they suggest, U.S. troop strength would plateau at 90,000 through next year’s fighting season, when it would start coming down anew as Obama’s re-election campaign enters its final weeks. By the end of 2012, the 30,000 “surge” troops he ordered to Afghanistan in late 2009 should all be home, some Pentagon officials believe.

Read Thompson’s entire dispatch here.

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