KABUL -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has been ordered to submit a plan by mid-October for the initial withdrawal of American troops, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday. That plan may hinge in part on whether the latest surge in attacks continues through Ramadan.
Commanders are hearing that Taliban leaders might leave their fighters in the country to try to regain lost ground during the Islamic holy month that begins today, rather than crossing the border to Pakistan, said Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman.
Mullen, who visited U.S. outposts along Afghanistan's eastern border Sunday, also said U.S. troops are making progress in their renewed campaign against Taliban-allied Haqqani insurgents in havens in Pakistan. And he issued another warning that Islamabad must step up its fight against the militants.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him, he said Marine Gen. John Allen, who has just taken over as top U.S. commander here, needs time to evaluate the combat, training and other requirements before presenting a detailed withdrawal plan.
Mullen's comments for the first time laid out a deadline for Allen to structure the planned withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year, as announced by President Barack Obama. Mullen noted that often the Taliban leaders will travel back to Pakistan for Ramadan, but it's unclear what they will do, or if there will be any decline in the fighting.
U.S. military leaders have said they plan to shift resources and perhaps some troops to the eastern border, and Mullen said commanders he met with along the eastern border said the strategy is working.
Mullen said that so far commanders are reporting some signs of improved security, but his comments came amid a series of deadly attacks across the south, including a bombing Sunday outside the police headquarters in the city of Lashkar Gah. As many as 12 Afghan policemen and a child were killed.
There are nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Under Obama's troop withdrawal plan, 10,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, and another 23,000 by the end of next summer.