Taking credit for gains achieved as a result of the “surge” he ordered, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year – and another 23,000 next year.

“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead,” Obama said. “Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”

Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009 – against the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and other members of his administration. The U.S. troop presence reached its peak of 100,000 last September.

Obama’s decision to start bringing home those additional troops is a rebuke of his military commanders, who recommended a smaller withdrawal. It’s also a rebuke of many of his Congressional allies, who wanted to see a “full drawdown.”

“It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the president laid out,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, adding that “we will continue to press for a better outcome.”

Several Republican presidential candidates – including frontrunner Mitt Romney and libertarian standard-bearer Ron Paul – have also called for larger withdrawals. Meanwhile other GOP candidates – including Tim Pawlenty – believe Obama is bringing too many troops home too quickly.

Whatever you think of the specific troop number, it’s hard to ignore that Obama will be bringing home the last of the “surge” troops shortly before he faces voters in November 2012.

“The president is trying to find a political solution with a military component to it, when it needs to be the other way around,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton agreed.

“I think the way he’s handled the timing of the withdrawal of the extra surge forces has a lot to do with politics,” Bolton told FOX News. “He needs to appease the left wing of his own party, which he’s done. But he needs to avoid a debacle on the battlefield before November of 2012. So he’s pushed the withdrawal of the 33,000 off until very close to that point. This is not a military decision, this is a political decision.”

Earlier this week, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated that American gains in Afghanistan were “fragile and reversible,” although he publicly endorsed Obama’s plan.

A total of 1,623 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 – including a record 499 last year. In addition to those lives, the Afghan War has cost taxpayers more than $500 billion. By comparison, a total of 4,463 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003.  That conflict has cost taxpayers more than $800 billion.

To read our most recent report on the Afghan war, click here.