“They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off.”

Austin Douglas, Officer Commanding Bravo Company, Royal Canadian Regiment speaks with an Afghan elder in the village of Nakhonay

From Peter Baker, the New York Times: As he hands command of the war to Gen. David H. Petraeus, Mr. Obama is trying to define what his timeline means — but not too much. Even as developments in Afghanistan have made meeting the deadline all the more daunting, Mr. Obama has sent multiple signals to multiple audiences, sticking by his commitment to begin pulling out while insisting that it does not mean simply walking away.

The White House said Monday that the July 2011 deadline was intentionally flexible, but had had some desired effect. “We want the Afghans to understand that we’re going to be expecting more out of them, so to the extent that it conveys a sense of urgency, that’s an important message,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

At the same time, he noted that the president had not decided how quickly the drawdown would take place. “There’s clearly going to be an enduring commitment to Afghanistan past 2011, whatever the slope,” he said. …

In the village of Abdul Ghayas in Helmand Province last month, for example, a local resident exasperated two Marines when he told them that he was nervous about helping with their plans for a new school out of fear that the Taliban would retaliate after the Americans went home next year.

“That’s why they won’t work with us,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, one of the Marines, told a reporter traveling with the unit. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off. It’s so frustrating. …”

A senior American intelligence official said the Taliban had effectively used the deadline to their advantage. He added that the deadline had encouraged Pakistani security services to “hedge their bets” and continue supporting militant groups like the Haqqani network.

“They’ve been burned and they’ve seen this movie before,” the official said, noting the American disengagement after the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Should the war deteriorate, he added, Pakistani leaders are thinking, “We don’t want Haqqani turning around and coming this way. …”

Ms. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi told the Huffington Post that there must be a “serious drawdown” next summer and that she was not sure how many Democrats will vote for war spending without enshrining such policy into law. “I don’t know how many votes there are in the caucus, even condition-based, for the war, hands down,” she said.  (photo: Reuters)

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