Obama to decide soon on U.S. troops in Afghan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will decide relatively soon on how many U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in July to start a gradual pullout from that country, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met their senior national security aides for two hours to discuss policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in the wake of the May 2 killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Carney said planned troop withdrawals were not discussed but that Obama expects to receive a recommendation from his military commanders on how many troops to withdraw starting next month as part of a transition to Afghan security control scheduled to conclude in 2014.

“If there are options contained within that recommendation, I’m sure those options will be reviewed and discussed,” Carney told reporters.

The United States has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, a deployment that costs more than $110 billion a year.

Obama is to hold a video conference on Wednesday with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has been increasingly outraged at civilian casualties in the NATO-led battle against the Taliban in his country.

Karzai had warned NATO-led forces May 31 they were at risk of being seen as an occupying force rather than an ally after a spate of civilian casualties, and said he would take unspecified action if they continue.

Republican Senator John McCain told the Financial Times newspaper that he hopes Obama will withdraw no more than 3,000 troops from Afghanistan starting in July.

If Obama decides on a faster pullout as a consequence of the bin Laden killing, some experts believe he could withdraw 5,000, a full brigade combat team.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Laura MacInnis and Alister Bull; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Trott)