Obama's Afgan withdrawal plan may please no-one

President Obama is claiming the extra troops he decided to send to Afghanistan have done their job and can start coming home.

The withdrawal is rather quicker than the military would like: 10,000 by the end of this year, the remain 23,000 by next September.

White House officials say the Afghanistan surge has worked - al-Qaeda is severely weakened and no longer has safe havens strung out across the border with Pakistan. They claim the fighting against the Taliban in Helmand province and Kandahar has also had the desired result.

The price has been high. In the first year of America's longest war 12 Americans died. The next year, 2002, it was 49. By 2007 it was 117. The year Obama ordered the surge 317 died, last year 499. At $2bn-a-week the cost in money is also a huge drain on a country constantly worried about its immense debt.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Afghan forces are due to take over all security operations by 2014

But Obama's plan for a rapid withdrawal seems to be directly against the strong advice of the retiring defence secretary Robert Gates and General Petraeus, due to move from being the top Nato military man in Afghanistan to become head of the CIA. The Pentagon felt its plan to switch to a counter-insurgency strategy was working but needed a little more time.

Perhaps Obama noted that generals always feel wars can be won, with a little more time and a few more men. With an election around the corner it maybe what the public wants. All the latest opinion polls suggest the American people are in favour of a quick withdrawal.

The danger for the president is that he will please no one. Some Democrats may want a quicker draw down. So apparently does one Republican candidate, John Huntsman, who described the withdrawal of 10,000 troops this year as cautious although he was speaking before the full plan was known.

The president may talk in more detail about the plan to hand over the fighting to Afghan troops by 2014. But it is worth remembering that when every last solider who was part of the surge is home, there will still be around 70,000 American troops in Afghanistan.