Slightly Fewer Troops Will Be in Afghanistan at Some Point

President Obama plans to give a White House address tomorrow night regarding his future plans for the Afghanistan war. What will the troop drawdown be? 10,000? 30,000? Two soldiers and a dog?

The White House, naturally, is saying a "major" drawdown will be underway soon. But let's look at those numbers and reconsider this adjective, "major." From the Los Angeles Times:

In 2009 the president coupled his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan with a pledge to begin removing some of those forces this summer. U.S. officials and outside experts familiar with recent deliberations said Obama was leaning toward withdrawing all the additional troops by the end of 2012 or early 2013. That would leave close to 70,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Keep in mind, too, that shortly after Obama entered office, he sent an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan — before his decision to send a "surge" of 30,000. And as the more cautious New York Times reporters note, Obama is still keeping open the possibility of a less "aggressive" drawdown: a "Pentagon-backed proposal to pull out only 5,000 troops this year," and then... something. But we'll find out Wednesday night! And while any option would technically keep Obama's promise to start removing troops in the summer of 2011, be careful not to confuse this with a plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan unless he makes one explicitly.

And what is the point of these silly numbers anyway? As Wired's Spencer Ackerman writes, the "end" of the war still hinges on a political solution that may or may not be in the works:

All the D.C. punditocracy is playing a numbers game about President Obama's troop reductions from Afghanistan. And once again, that misses the whole point of the war's next phase. What matters isn't how many troops Obama withdraws this year, or next. It's how the drawdown supports Taliban peace talks, the only real ticket out of the war. [...]

That means the key criteria for determining how the Afghanistan war will end won't be how fast the drawdown goes. It'll be how the drawdown supports the peace talks. Obama could float temporary halts in hostilities to entice the Taliban to more serious negotiations. Or he could say that the fighting will continue in intensity if the Taliban are intransigent. It could go any number of ways.

But if Obama's Wednesday speech doesn't explain how the drawdown supports a political strategy for ending the war, it'll mean one thing: he has no idea how to get out of Afghanistan.

And never forget that these war efforts keep a lot of people directly or indirectly employed in a bad economy. Too cynical? Well, your representative in Congress probably factors this in when deciding whether to bomb goat farmers with expensive machines for more years at a time.

[Image via AP]