POLITICS
06/21/2011 02:14 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2011

Carl Levin: Obama Needs To Withdraw At Least 15,000 Troops From Afghanistan

WASHINGTON -- Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has put forward a baseline number of troops that the president must announce he will pull out of Afghanistan, saying that anything less would break Obama's promise of a "significant" drawdown.

"In my judgment, a minimum of 15,000 reduction in troops would be needed for this to be a significant reduction, and since the president has committed himself a few months ago to a significant reduction, I think that's what will happen," Levin told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

When asked how he came up with that number, Levin replied, "It's based on what would it take to let the Afghans know the significance of the importance of shifting the responsibility -- the principal responsibility to them for the security of their own country."

President Obama is set to address the nation at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday. But initial reports indicate the president may not meet Levin's baseline.

A senior defense official told the Associated Press that President Obama is likely to announce the withdrawal of approximately 10,000 troops this year, "with one brigade of about 5,000 forces leaving this summer and a second brigade of similar size coming home by the end of the year."

The Los Angeles Times had a similar report, noting that withdrawing 10,000 troops this year is more ambitious than what Gen. David Petraeus and other Pentagon officials had advocated.

In a statement to The Huffington Post on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) put down a similar baseline but indicated the Oregon senator would like to see it even higher.

"While various senators' opinions may differ, Senator Merkley would not consider an initial reduction below 15-25,000 troops to be sizable," the spokeswoman said. "However, even more important is that ongoing withdrawals must be sustained with an end point of complete withdrawal of regular combat troops. It cannot be a situation where we remove some troops now without a plan to ensure that the rest of the regular combat troops come home as quickly as logistics and safety allow."

Merkley, along with Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), recently circulated a letter calling on Obama to put forward a "significant and sizable" reduction in troops in Afghanistan. The letter attracted a total of 27 co-signers.

There are currently about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan; 30,000 of them went in as part of the "surge" Obama announced in December 2009.

But even the reduction of 15,000 that Levin is proposing may not be enough to stave off a revolt from lawmakers.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), who is a member of both the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees told The Huffington Post recently that anything below a 20,000 troops drawdown will probably elicit a "hue and a cry" from Congress.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, introduced an amendment to the defense bill last month calling for the United States to reduce troop levels to 25,000 by the end of 2012 and to 10,000 by the end of 2013.

On Tuesday, at a joint press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said growing war fatigue and public opposition to U.S. involvement factored significantly into the president's decision on the drawdown. Gates said the conditions on the ground could not be the only factor in the decision.