(CNSNews.com) – A “large number” of U.S.-led coalition troops will remain on the ground in Afghanistan beyond President Obama’s July 2011 date to begin a drawdown process, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
“We will start drawing down troops next July,” Mullen told the CNN program GPS on Sunday.
“We’re very committed to beginning drawdown then, but there will continue to be a large number of U.S. and allied troops on the ground in Afghanistan after July 2011,” he added.
Mullen indicated that the withdrawal would be contingent on conditions and counsel from commanders on the ground. It was too soon to tell now how many troops would be withdrawn and which Afghan locations would be affected, he said.
Commenting on reconciliation talks with the Taliban, Mullen called the process an important one that would be followed by progress.
“We need to do that from a strong position, and we’re just not there right now,” he added. “The Taliban don’t think they are losing and the likelihood that they are going to take any significant steps with respect to reconciliation is low.”
President Obama said last December that, ground conditions permitting, a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would begin in July 2011, a date he described as marking the starting point of a responsible transition of security tasks to Afghan forces.
Administration and military officials have said that it is the U.S. goal to finish the withdrawal process by the end of 2014, but that a long-lasting relationship will remain between NATO and Afghanistan.
On Nov. 9, U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, told CNSNews.com that he expected Afghan forces to be operating “in the lead” by the end of 2014, but that did not mean they would be doing so independent of U.S.-led coalition forces.