Since then, public opinion has turned increasingly against the war, except for a now-diminishing boost in approval after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.
As he begins the promised withdrawal, Obama’s challenge will be to provide his generals with the resources to wage the war’s final phase while persuading Congress that, at a time of fiscal strain, maintaining most of a $10 billion-a-month war effort is worthwhile.
“The process [leading to the decisions to be announced Wednesday] was all about the mission that was laid out in December of 2009, the surge in forces that followed from that decision and that mission, and the evaluation of the success that we’ve had since that mission began,” Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters Tuesday. “Having said that, we are always mindful of the fact that, as powerful and wealthy as this country is, we do not have infinite and unlimited resources, and we have to make decisions about how to spend our precious dollars and, more importantly, how and when to use military force.”
Obama made his decision early Tuesday and informed only a small number of senior advisers of his plan. Even drafts of his speech, which he will deliver at 8 p.m. from the White House, circulated late Tuesday without final withdrawal numbers.
But the broad outline of the plan is likely to include the removal of 5,000 troops this summer with an additional 5,000 by the end of the year, according to administration officials familiar with the White House deliberations.
That would leave 23,000 troops in Afghanistan from the surge forces that Obama endorsed after the strategy review in 2009. Those troops will likely all be brought home by the end of 2012, giving his generals another full fighting season after this one with the bulk of the surge forces in place.
In Kabul, the Afghan Defense Ministry said Wednesday that it is ready to take responsibility for fighting the Taliban and securing parts of the country that U.S. and allied NATO troops turn over to Afghan security forces.
“There will be some battles” during the transition period, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, according to the Associated Press. “There will be suicide attacks and bomb attacks. . . . But we in the Afghan forces are prepared to replace the foreign forces, and I’m confident the army has enough capacity and ability.”