|U.S. commanders concerned about Ramadan fighting||
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has until mid-October to submit a plan for the initial withdrawal of American troops, decisions that may hinge in part on whether the latest surge in attacks continues through the holy month of Ramadan.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says commanders are hearing that Taliban leaders may leave their fighters in the country to try to regain lost ground during the Islamic holy period which begins today.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan, Mullen said Marine Gen. John Allen, who has just taken over as top U.S. commander here, needs time to evaluate the combat, training and other requirements before presenting a detailed withdrawal plan.
Mullen's comments for the first time laid out a deadline for Allen to structure the planned withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year, as announced by President Barack Obama.
"The next month will be very telling," said Mullen, noting that often the Taliban leaders will travel back to Pakistan for Ramadan. It's unclear at this point what they will do, or if there will be any decline in the fighting.
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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