August 23, 2010

One influential Republican senator has changed his mind on President Barack Obama's plan begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.

After a recent trip to the region, Sen. Lindsey Graham returned to say that he believes some troops could be removed in July 2011.

"After this trip, I think we can transition next summer some areas of Afghanistan to Afghan control," Graham told CBS' Bob Schieffer Sunday.

"I see progress I had not seen before. I see a scenario if things continue to develop the way they are that certain areas of Afghanistan can be transitioned to Afghan control and we could remove some troops safely without undermining the overall war mission," he said.

"But at the end of the day the president has to let the Afghan people, the regional players know, the American people know that we're not going to leave until we're successful. But I do see a path forward next summer to transition in certain areas of Afghanistan but we will need substantial troops well past July of 2011 to get this right," continued Graham.

Only three weeks ago, Graham told CNN that he didn't think it would be possible to begin transitioning troops out of Afghanistan that soon.

On the same program, however, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina worried that the Afghan forces and central government may not be ready to assume the necessary responsibilities within a year.

"[G]enerally speaking, this time next summer, we're still going to be engaged in one hell of a fight," Graham told CNN. "We're going to need every troop we have today, I think, still in Afghanistan next year."

According to Graham, it will be clear by the end of this year where things stand in Afghanistan.

"If, by December, we're not showing some progress, we're in trouble," he said. "And the question is: what is progress? Without some benchmarks and measurements, it's going to be hard to sell to the American people a continued involvement in Afghanistan."

Graham's change in attitude comes only days after a new poll shows that nearly 6 in 10 Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan.

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