Just hours after President Barack Obama announced his Afghanistan escalation strategy’s key tenets on Tuesday night (30,000 troops, pullout to begin July 2011), top administration officials were already throwing around suggestions that neither of these was what it seemed.
Ambassador Eikenberry presented Obama’s 30,000 number as “up to 35,000” yesterday, and today Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the president had given him flexibility to send an additional 3,000 troops as he sees fit.
The July 2011 deadline seems even less convincing, as Secretary Gates told the Senate yesterday that this was just an estimate. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded by saying this was not true, even going so far as to say after his press conference that he checked again with President Obama and could assure that the date was “etched in stone.”
Now officials are again insisting that this is simply not true. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that the date was not locked in, and Admiral Michael Mullen said the official date could still happen but that they might decided to remove virtually no troops then, which is essentially what has happened in Iraq’s “drawdown.” Secretary Gates too has spoken of an “elongated” pullout taking several years.