President Obama announced Tuesday that the U.S. plans to remove all troops from Afghanistan by 2016, starting with reducing the troop presence in the country to just 9,800 and an end to the U.S. combat mission at the close of 2014.
The move will mark the first time in Mr. Obama’s presidency that the U.S. has not had an active combat mission in a foreign country.
“We have now been in Afghanistan longer than many Americans expected but make no mistake: thanks to the skill and sacrifice of our troops, diplomats and intelligence professionals we have struck significant blows against al Qaeda’s leadership, we have eliminated Osama bin Laden and we’ve prevented Afghanistan from being used to launch attacks against our homeland,” the president said.
The U.S. will leave 9,800 troops in the country in 2015 with two narrow missions, according to the White House: continue supporting Afghan forces, who took the lead ins securing the country last year, and continuing to support counter terrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.
The number of forces will be reduced by about half by the end of 2015, the administration says, and by the end of 2016 will eventually consist of a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as is the case in Iraq.
At the peak of the war, there were 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Today, there are about 32,000. Mr. Obama noted in his remarks that when he took office, there were 180,000 trooped deployed abroad.
The future of U.S. troop presence has been uncertain for months as Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay after the combat mission is concluded at the end of this year.
The candidates running to replace Karzai have indicated they will sign an agreement, but the uncertainty has delayed the U.S. military’s ability to plan for the future.
“We believe that the long-term solution for Afghan security is not U.S. forces, it’s Afghan forces, and that we’ve trained and equipped an Afghan National Security Force that needs to be responsible for securing their country,” a senior administration official said ahead of the president’s announcement. “This has never been a situation where the United States was signing on to provide security in Afghanistan indefinitely.”
The president reiterated the necessity of signing the security agreement, but said he was hopeful it could be done.
SOURCE: REBECCA KAPLAN