Obama’s July 2011 Draw-Down Date for Afghanistan Sends Mixed Messages, Former Afghan Presidential Candidate Says

By Edwin Mora | May 26, 2010 | 6:07 PM EDT

Soldiers in Afghanistan (AP Photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a candidate in the 2009 Afghan presidential election, said the July 2011 date set by President Barack Obama for U.S. troops to draw-down from Afghanistan is problematic because it creates a perception of mixed messages about U.S. commitment to the country.
Dr. Abdullah explained that talks about withdrawing troops send confusing messages to the Afghan people, which in turn create the wrong perception about U.S. commitment to a stable Afghanistan.
“In the past few months, the people of Afghanistan received mixed messages," said Dr. Abdullah at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
“Sometimes the message is already mixed, ‘we’re withdrawing; we’re leaving; yes, it’s not working; democracy in Afghanistan was the wrong proposition right from the beginning, so we shouldn’t have done it,” added Dr. Abdullah.
He continued, “Some of these things are messages [that] are confusing that, as a whole for NATO it has become a crucial test.”
Abdullah further said, “You have a partner in the people of Afghanistan and [and this is] apart from the contributions, financial support and otherwise, but it’s important that you stand by the process so, as a result, the people are empowered then [and] that [the] mission is shortened.”
As for a “timeframe, I don’t think that anybody can give a time schedule,” said Abdullah. “But the people do prefer their own institutions taking responsibility and that’s the wish of the Afghan people. And at the same time we understand we’re not there at the moment.”
He stressed that “some enemies of the process might have perceived it [the July 11 draw-down] differently and will strategize upon it differently.”
At the press conference, CNSNews.com asked Dr. Abdullah, “Do you see a problem with the July 2011 draw-down date?
“Yeah, I think the perception which [it] has created” is a problem, said Dr. Abdullah.
Abdullah, leader of the Afghan political party “Coalition for Hope and Change,” said the intention of the July 2011 date is good but the perception “is very different.” 
Before CNSNews.com’s question, another reporter had asked, “I wonder if President Obama’s wish that American forces will start leaving the country in July 2011 – what’s the effect of that on Afghan government and Afghan people? Does that spread some confusion or doubts?” 
Abdullah said, “Some of the adversaries of the process, like the Taliban, might have considered it as a withdrawal date rather than a draw-down date, [by] which the commitment will continue, the support will continue, and so on and so forth.”
He added that regardless of the draw-down date, the situation is “business as usual” for the Afghan government.
On Dec. 2 at West Point Academy, Obama described his strategy for Afghanistan, saying, “And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months [July 2011], our troops will begin to come home.”
Obama also said, “We will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”    
The day after Obama outlined that strategy, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, criticized the president for setting a date for when troops are to start drawing-down from Afghanistan.
"A withdrawal date only emboldens al Qaeda and the Taliban while dispiriting our Afghan partners, and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight," McCain said on Dec. 3, 2009.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at that hearing. They defended Obama’s decision to set a draw-down date and stressed that when the time comes, it will depend upon the military and political conditions on the ground.
On Dec. 15, when speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, McCain foreshadowed Dr. Abdullah’s concern that the July 2011 date creates the wrong perception.
McCain said: “We have announced a date, divorced from conditions on the ground, when we will start to withdraw our troops. It doesn’t matter whether we call it a ‘cliff’ or a ‘ramp’ or anything else. It’s still an exit sign.”
McCain continued, “It sends the wrong signal to our friends, who fear – and not without reason – that the United States will abandon them before they can defend and sustain themselves. It sends the wrong signal to our enemies, who will use this July 2011 date to undermine and intimidate our partners.”  
Furthermore, he said, “And it sends the wrong signal to all in the region who are now hedging their bets – Pakistani generals reluctant to cut ties with the Taliban, or Afghan civilians who ask our troops, ‘Are you staying this time?’ On this issue, the administration and I will have to agree to disagree.”