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Congressman: Small withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
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Security improves in Afghanistan
  • Three Congressmen meet with Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan
  • The Obama administration has said it will begin drawing down U.S. forces in July
  • "I don't expect ... a big withdrawal of troops at that time," Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon says

(CNN) -- A senior Congressman just back from Afghanistan painted an upbeat picture of military operations there, but predicted only a small number of U.S. forces will be withdrawn this summer.

"I don't expect we're going to see a big withdrawal of troops at that time," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

"We asked the question several times, receiving no answer other than any withdrawal will be based on conditions on the ground."

During the trip, McKeon and two other Congressmen met with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. They also met with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and various NATO and U.S. military officials.

McKeon did not specify whom they questioned about the troop withdrawals.

The Obama administration has said it will begin drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July, with the goal of all U.S. military personnel out in four years.

McKeon, a Republican from California, said the emphasis was on the 2014 full-withdrawal date.

"There was no indication of any set number, or type of troops, or MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), whatever, that would be pulled out in July. I think they are just waiting to see what happens in the spring offensive and they will make plans as we get closer to July," McKeon said.

McKeon, briefed reporters in Washington Tuesday afternoon, just hours after he arrived from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he was impressed that he and the two Congressmen he traveled with could walk down a central market street without body armor in the Marjah district of southern Afghanistan, which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity.

"Everywhere we went, things were really upbeat and I know I feel much better about the situation there," McKeon said

Rep. John Kline -- a Republican from Minnesota -- also said he was impressed by the progress he saw in Afghanistan.

"It was remarkable, as chairman McKeon said, that we were able to walk down the street in Marjah and visit with shopkeepers in a place where there was very heavy fighting only a year ago," Kline said.

Kline, who is chairman of the House Education Committee, cut the ribbon at the opening of a new school for 500 children.

"We spent two days in Afghanistan, travelling north and south, and we never wore body armor -- which it just to me absolutely amazing we could do that, walk around amongst the Afghans without body armor," Kline said.

Neither Congressman offered details on what security was provided for them in Marjah apart from the U.S. military accompanying them throughout.

A Congressional staff member on the trip told CNN that he was sure there had been an advance patrol and maintenance of an outer security bubble for the Marjah visit but the staffer said there was no sign of an overwhelming military force in or around the market and no evidence of combat vehicles or aircraft.

CNN was unable to get any further information from the military.

A U.S. military official said no special security arrangements were necessary for the market walk.

"Aside from a Marine foot-patrol, there was nothing that was done differently security-wise," said Lt. Alex Lim, a public affairs officer.

"There were no roof-top snipers, attack helicopters, or armored Humvees. The shops remained open and no roads were blocked off. We don't dictate its closure anyway. We had a routine Marine foot-patrol that escorted the guests through the market place just like they would on a normal day," Lim told CNN via e-mail.