The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, says that the drawdown of U.S. troops scheduled to start in July 2011 will be influenced by conditions on the ground.
In an interview with David Gregory scheduled to air on "Meet the Press" Sunday, Petraeus, as the AP put it, "hedged" when asked if the deadline was non-negotiable.
"What the president very much wants from me, and what we talked about in the Oval Office, is the responsibility of a military commander on the ground to provide his best professional military advice," Petraeus said. If the desired progress had not been reached by summer 2011, Petraeus said ''I would communicate that to him. ... That's real life.''
As the New York Times reported earlier this week, U.S. military officials are looking to build a case to minimize next summer's troop withdrawal. Petraeus, for his part, after keeping a low profile during his first month on the job, is beginning a media offensive, starting with his appearance on MTP this weekend, in which he is expected to the make the case for a fairly modest withdrawal and for more time to execute the current counterinsurgency strategy.
"Their argument is that while we've been in Afghanistan for nine years, only in the past 12 months or so have we started doing this right, and we need to give it some time and think about what our long-term presence in Afghanistan should look like," a senior military official told the Times.
As CNN reported yesterday, settling the debate about the deadline is one of Petraeus' key goals since taking command.
Yet while the military is preparing its appeal for more time, the New York Times published a lengthy editorial in this morning's paper, stating that "like many Americans, we are increasingly confused and anxious about the strategy in Afghanistan and wonder whether, at this late date, there is a chance of even minimal success."
The editorial lays out a number of familiar concerns -- the lack of counterinsurgency success in Marjah, the untrustworthiness of Karzai as a partner, the inadequately prepared Afghan army -- while also touching on the issue of Obama's deadline.
"President Obama was intentionally vague last December when he said that American troops would begin to transfer out of Afghanistan by July 2011," the Times writes. "Since then, the administration has sent a host -- a cacophony -- of conflicting signals about the deadline, the strategy and its commitment to the war. Americans need regular, straight talk from President Obama about what is happening in Afghanistan, for good and ill, and the plan going forward."
A preview of Petraeus' "Meet the Press" interview: