KABUL, Afghanistan — A delegation of four U.S. senators, asserting that the U.S. counterinsurgency is making headway in Afghanistan, heightened pressure Wednesday on President Obama to abandon his pledge that the United States would begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, a deadline that seems increasingly wobbly.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Obama was "wrong to set the date of July, mid-2011," to begin a phased withdrawal of roughly 100,000 U.S. troops. He said the president should unequivocally state that any U.S. pullback would be based on conditions in the country.
"He hasn't done that to my satisfaction," McCain said.
Offering a different perspective, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, told reporters that the 2011 date should not be a focal point.
"A better date to think about is 2014," he said, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai has proposed that Afghanistan take control of its own security.
In a story that appeared in Wednesday newspapers, McClatchy reported that the White House plans to de-emphasize the July 2011 date as the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal in hopes, in part, of persuading Pakistan's military that the U.S. will not soon abandon its fight against the Taliban.
Obama announced that the U.S. would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 in a speech a year ago at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The date has been controversial from the beginning, and McClatchy reported that senior U.S. officials say that the administration is now trying to focus attention on 2014.
On Wednesday, Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said there's been no change in policy. "The president has been crystal clear that we will begin drawing down troops in July of 2011. There is absolutely no change to that policy," Vietor said in a statement.
A White House official who briefed reporters on Tuesday about an upcoming review of progress in Afghanistan, however, carefully avoided the word "withdrawal" when asked whether "the president will be able to meet the date of July 2011 for starting pulling out the troops."