Afghanistan withdrawal plan ordered, to be done by mid-October
U.S. officials have been pressing Pakistan to go after Haqqani militants and other fighters who routinely launch attacks into Afghanistan from Pakistan. But relations with Islamabad have frayed, particularly after the U.S. raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden. In recent weeks, the Obama administration moved to delay $800 million in aid to Pakistan, to put further pressure on the government, which has been reluctant to push into North Waziristan and go after the Haqqani network.
Acknowledging the ongoing frustration with Islamabad, Mullen said Sunday that the U.S. will continue to push for action, "but I would be hard pressed to tell you when it's going to happen."
On Ramadan, one Western official said that while Taliban leaders have pushed for an increase in violence through the holy month, information suggests there will be some spikes but that they don't have the ability to carry off a sustained surge. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said some leaders and fighters had already left Afghanistan to cross the border into Pakistan, but it is too soon to tell how many may stay.
Mullen, who arrived Friday in Afghanistan, met Saturday with commanders in southern Afghanistan.
He said that so far commanders are saying they are seeing some signs of improved security, but his comments came amid a series of spectacular deadly attacks across the south, including a bombing Sunday outside the main gate of the police headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah. The suicide bomber killed at least 11 people in a city where Afghans had only recently taken control of security.
That attack comes on the heels of bombings in the southern province of Uruzgan that killed at least 19 people, and the assassination of Kandahar's mayor.
The mayor was the third southern Afghan leader to be killed in the last three weeks.
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.
A key to the withdrawal is the ongoing effort to train Afghan forces so they can take control of their own security. Mullen said that while training remains a top priority, and commanders would like to accelerate it, it's not clear how possible that will be over the coming months.
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