WASHINGTON -- U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have drawn up preliminary proposals to withdraw as many as 5,000 troops from the country in July and as many as 5,000 more by the year's end, the first phase of a U.S. pullout promised by President Obama, officials say.
The proposals, prepared by staff officers in Kabul, are likely to be the subject of fierce internal debate in the White House, State Department and Pentagon-a discussion influenced by calculations about how Usama bin Laden's death will affect the Afghan battlefield.
The plans were drafted before the U.S. killed the Al Qaeda leader, and could be revised. They have yet to be formally presented to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who must then seek White House approval for a withdrawal.
If approved by top military officers and the president, an initial withdrawal of 5,000 would represent a modest reduction from the current 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, allowing the military to preserve combat power through this summer's fighting season. Some of the troops that leave in July will be combat troops but commanders hope to minimize the impact by culling support staff as well.
In addition to U.S. forces, there are more than 40,000 international troops in Afghanistan, some of whom could also begin pulling out this summer, officials said.
Mr. Obama set the July deadline in December 2009 as he announced the surge of an additional 30,000 forces, in an effort to reassure Democrats skeptical of the war that even as he was building up troops in Afghanistan he wasn't signing off on an endless conflict.
Military officials believe the White House doesn't want a precipitous drawdown that would undercut U.S. gains in southern Afghanistan, a traditional stronghold of the Taliban, whose top leadership in Pakistan have had longstanding ties to bin Laden and his terror organization.