First, what did the president mean when he announced that the 30,000 extra troops he's sending to Afghanistan—some of whom won't arrive until the summer of 2010—will begin to come home in July 2011? Second, how many more troops will the NATO allies send, and how much fighting will they do? The answer to the first question is that 2011 will probably mark neither a deadline nor more than a token withdrawal. The answers to the second question are: not many and not much.
Gates and Mullen repeated time and again that this wasn't going to happen. First, they said, the key word in Obama's speech was that U.S. troops would begin to turn over the lead role in the fight to Afghan security forces. The pace of this process, and the end point of the withdrawal, will be determined by "conditions on the ground."So, maybe this is conditions-based after all.
However, Gates also said that he hoped the extra NATO troops will be deployed in Afghanistan's northern and western provinces, where the Taliban don't pose as much of a threat. In other words, the most intense fighting will still be left largely to us.That means that their caveats will not be as problematic as they would be if they were in the riskier places. But putting lots of folks in the south and east is likely to push the insurgents into the rest of the country.
Will keep tracking, although the amount of stuff on this is going to be another cottage industry.