WASHINGTON — Nearly 10 years after a U.S.-led coalition attacked Afghanistan and 18 months after a surge of 33,000 fresh American troops there, war-weary U.S. voters probably will cheer President Obama's speech tonight announcing his timetable to start withdrawing troops from America's longest war.
But whether the drawdown helps or hurts Afghanistan — and ultimately what Americans think of how Obama handled it as he heads into his 2012 re-election contest — will depend on how fast troops come home and how quickly Afghans can step in to replace them.
"He has been working through his decision over the course of the last several weeks and finalized that decision today," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The president will explain his timetable for withdrawal in a televised speech from the White House at 7 p.m. CDT. He will travel Thursday to talk firsthand with troops at Fort Drum, N.Y., the home of the Army's 10th Mountain Division.
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Obama, who decided in December 2009 to send an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan for a total of 100,000, said at the time that he would start drawing down the surge in July 2011, and later that he would pull all U.S. combat troops out by the end of 2014.
He's expected to announce tonight the drawdown of 5,000 troops starting next month, and the full 33,000 by the end of next year. The remaining 67,000 troops would be drawn down over the following two years.
"The parameters of the decision involve the beginning of the drawdown of U.S. forces," Carney said Tuesday. "This is within a framework of the gradual transition of security lead to the Afghans. It's begun already in some places, but it will progress over the next several years."
At least 1,632 U.S. troops have been killed as part of the Afghanistan campaign since 2001, according to icasualties.org, which tracks casualties in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.