The New York Times is reporting that President Obama's national security team is thinking about a bigger troop pullout from Afghanistan that has been recently considered. Reports have suggested perhaps 5,000 troops leaving this summer. According to the Times, some officials are arguing that the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden are what they call "strategic considerations" for a sharp withdrawal.
This argument would run up against a proposal from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who's in Afghanistan pushing for a modest drawdown of U.S. forces. Gates told troops in Kandahar yesterday that he's confident that the U.S. will strike a right balance on the issue and that leaving as many combat troops as long as possible in the region is a "no-brainer." Gates said, "If it were up to me, I would leave the shooters for last. ... Nobody wants to give up the gains that have been won at such a hard cost, and nobody wants to give our allies the excuse to run for the exits."
Gates also thanked service members for their sacrifice and choked back tears as he spoke. He said, "More than anybody except the president, I'm responsible for you being here. I'm the person that signed the deployment papers that got you here, and that weighs on me every day. ... I feel your hardship and your sacrifice and your burden, and that of your families, more than you can possibly know. You are, I believe, the best our country has to offer, and you will be in my thoughts and prayers, every day for the rest of my life."
Gates is rounding out his final visit to Afghanistan as Defense Secretary before he retires at the end of the month.