Sen. Barbara Boxer today outlined a plan to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan, saying the U.S. needs to change its mission from a military effort 100,000 strong to a counter-terrorism effort supported by no more than 25,000 troops by the end of 2012.

Military leaders are pushing President Barack Obama to choose a more gradual redeployment strategy, the democratic senator acknowledged to a small crowd gathered at the World Affairs Council of Northern California in San Francisco.

But she said recent victories, including the death of Osama bin Laden and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process, mean the U.S. should focus on more precise counter-terrorism efforts and on training Afghan forces.

“I am not suggesting that we walk away from Afghanistan tomorrow,” Boxer said. “Rather, what I am recommending is a very different mission.”

The U.S. has trained almost 300,000 Afghan security forces and “decimated” the ranks of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, she said.

“We don’t need a massive force of 100,000 U.S. troops and another 50,000 NATO troops to pursue 50 or fewer members of al-Qaida,” Boxer said.

The senator also said she wanted Obama to withdraw 30,000 troops by the end of the year to return ground levels to those from before the 2009 “second surge.”

In February 2009, the president requested an initial surge of 17,000 troops. He asked for another 30,000 that December, saying the move was temporary and would allow the U.S. to begin transferring forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011, Boxer said.

Boxer argued it’s time for the latter surge to end. However, the Pentagon has asked the president to keep it in place through most of 2012 for the next two “warm weather” bouts of anticipated increased fighting, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates also told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that military leaders support the significant withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Obama’s original target for troop redeployment from Afghanistan, according to the published text of his remarks.

Boxer said today, though, that she agreed with Richard Haass, a one-time senior advisor to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, that the significant troop redeployment could be safely done in 12 to 18 months.

She argued that 10,000 to 25,00 troops would also be enough to keep terrorist networks in Pakistan from preventing or disrupting stability in Afghanistan.

The region is volatile, and Pakistan is home to Taliban forces, about 300 al-Qaida members, and a government that could pose a nuclear threat, the senator said.

“That’s why I’m not saying, ‘Get every single troop out’ of Afghanistan,” she said. “I agree with keeping a residual force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Boxer also stressed the need to keep working to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan even after the U.S.’s military presence there is reduced.

Earlier this week the senator met with a group of Afghan women leaders, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and journalists, she said.

They told her that out of 70 people selected to participate in the country’s peace and reconciliation process, only nine were women.

“Their point was that’s just not enough women,” Boxer said.

“Because who suffered the most under the Taliban? Women.”

Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous countries for women, she said, and states that don’t allow equal rights to women have historically made limited social, political and economic progress.

Boxer said she’s working on legislation that would tie reconstruction funds for Afghanistan to progress on giving women a chance to participate in the rebuilding process.

She said women need to have a seat at the table–and not just a token seat–although she declined to say what an ideal percentage of female participation would be.

“If women don’t have quality, Afghanistan will never, never, never move forward,” she said.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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