The pullout of major U.S. combat units from Afghanistan may not start until the peak fighting season ends in late fall, U.S. military officials said Wednesday, although 800 National Guard soldiers will go home this month.
Details of the U.S. drawdown are still being worked out, but thus far the only major combat unit designated to depart Afghanistan and not be replaced is a Marine infantry battalion set to leave in late fall, officials said. That means the military could retain virtually all its current combat power until the fighting goes into a seasonal lull and still meet President Barack Obama's order to reduce the force by 10,000 by year's end.
It is possible, though unlikely, that new U.S. commanders arriving in Kabul this month will speed up the drawdown.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon from his headquarters in Kabul, Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez said the full plan for reducing the U.S. force will not be worked out until autumn.
Beyond the 10,000 troops this year, a further 23,000 troops are to be brought out by September 2012. There currently are about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of an international coalition.
Rodriguez, who has spent more than 40 months in Afghanistan over the past nearly five years, said he believes the Obama pullout plan for 2011 and 2012 can be carried out without undue risk to the military's mission of gradually handing over security responsibility to the Afghans. The troop withdrawal plan has been criticized by some Republicans as too fast and risky, while some Democrats have complained that it is too slow and cautious.
CARGO PLANE CRASHES: An Azerbaijani cargo plane crashed in the mountains on its way to a U.S.-NATO air base in Afghanistan late Tuesday, officials said, and all nine crew members on board are believed to have been killed.
No Americans were on the flight, officials said.
TALIBAN DENIES TALKS: The Taliban categorically denied Wednesday that they're holding negotiations with the United States on a resolution to the decade-old war in Afghanistan, reiterating that they won't discuss a peace deal while any foreign forces remain in the country.
BRITISH PULLOUT begins: Prime Minister David Cameron announced Wednesday that Britain will withdraw 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.