WASHINGTON — The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.
President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.
“That’s not changing. Everybody agreed on that date,” Rahm Emanuel said, adding by name the top three officials overseeing war policy: Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.
Petraeus, the war’s top military boss, said last week that he would recommend delaying the pullout if conditions in Afghanistan warranted it. Days after the date was announced in December, Gates pointedly said it was not a deadline.
In Afghanistan on Sunday, two bombs hidden in push carts exploded less than a half hour apart in Helmand province, one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous areas.
The double explosions in Helmand were just two in a series of attacks reported over the weekend across the country.
Gates pledged Sunday that some troops would begin to leave in 13 months, but he was more cautious.
“We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces,” Gates said. “The pace with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to be conditions-based.”
At least 34 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this month. Casualties are expected to rise through the summer and fall as fighting expands in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.