White House insists Afghanistan different from missed deadlines

White House officials insisted Thursday that President Barack Obama will meet his July 2011 deadline to begin removing troops from Afghanistan despite missing other self-imposed deadlines.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged that several deadlines for approving healthcare reform have slipped, as had the deadline for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by early next year.

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But he and other White House officials blamed those missed deadlines on Congress, and insisted the July 2011 deadline for beginning to pull troops out of Afghanistan was not Obama’s alone.

“Guantanamo Bay is going to close, and healthcare is going to pass,” Gibbs said Thursday. “Some of the scheduling on that has gotten bottled up by what has to go through Congress.”

Gibbs said that the July 2011 date for transitioning security responsibilities from U.S. troops to Afghan security personnel is not “an arbitrary date, and this was not a date the president alone picked.”

“This was a careful recommendation based on planning in the Pentagon,” Gibbs said. “This was not a calendar and a dart.”

He added: “July '11 is not picked out of thin air.”

In one of his first actions in office, Obama promised to close Guantanamo within a year of his election, but that process has been slowed by opposition in Congress to moving any detainees to the United States for trial and imprisonment. The administration has also had trouble finding allies around the world to accept detainees, though it has managed to transfer some of the prisoners.

On healthcare, the White House initially hoped to win Senate and House approval of separate bills before the August recess, but that debate has been more difficult than anticipated. The White House then hoped bills would be approved by the end of the year.

The House approved a healthcare bill in November, and the Senate a week before Thanksgiving voted to begin debate.

Democrats now hope healthcare reform can be finished by Congress before the State of the Union address in late January.

Liberal groups opposed to the Afghanistan war have criticized Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to that country. Obama’s promise to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011 was meant to soothe Democrats opposed to the war and to pressure Afghanistan’s government. The missed deadline on Guantanamo in particular has prompted skepticism from the left that the new Afghanistan deadline will be met.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told The Hill that setting deadlines on healthcare and Guantanamo has helped make progress on those issues even if the deadlines have been missed.

Obama has been able to make “significant progress” on closing Guantanamo Bay and healthcare because he set deadlines, which “ratifies the administration's” strategy, Earnest said.

Earnest noted press reports that Afghan and Pakistani officials are expressing a newfound sense of urgency in the short amount of time since Obama announced his attention to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan but begin transition in less than two years.

“Setting these deadlines prods important action,” Earnest said.