Wrapping up more than a decade of war in Afghanistan, President Obama outlined on Tuesday a “responsible” end to the longest war in American history.
“Together with our allies and the Afghan government we have agreed that this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan,” Obama said in a brief statement at the White House.The U.S. intends to keep nearly 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan after it formally ends the war later this year, Obama said. After that, the U.S. will continue an “advisory” role in aiding the Afghan government, ending almost 13 years of war in the region.
“We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place,” Obama said, “and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one. The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.”
The U.S. will continue its military presence in the region only if the Afghan government agrees to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement. Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, leaving the decision up to his successor. U.S. officials expressed confidence that both Afghan presidential candidates will swiftly sign the agreement once either is elected into office.
Ahead of the press conference, Obama called his Afghan counterpart to update him on the drawdown plan, a senior administration official said, according to NBC News.
The two-year plan would keep 9,800 U.S. service members – down from the current force of 32,000 troops – dispersed along with NATO troops throughout Afghanistan after the end of the year.
By the end of 2015, the administration plans to cut that number of troops in half and focus them in Kabul, the capital, and on Bagram Airfield. The U.S. would then leave a “normal Embassy presence in Kabul” by the end of his term in 2016, the president said.
“Our relationship will not be defined by war,” he said. “It will be shaped by our financial and development assistance as well as our diplomatic support.”
Pointing to the early support from the American public, Congress, the international community and the Afghan people themselves, Obama said the U.S. mission has changed since its initial response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The U.S. will take a two-pronged approach after 2014, with focus shifted toward training Afghan forces and supporting counter-terrorism efforts against Al Qaeda.
“Now we’re finishing the job we started,” Obama said.
The announcement came after the commander-in-chief made a surprise visit to Afghanistan over the Memorial day weekend where he met with U.S. commanders and troops. The president is expected to further detail, and defend, his vision for U.S. foreign policy in a commencement address the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday.
More than 2,100 Americans have died in Afghanistan since the war began and thousands more have been injured, according to the Defense Department.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire released a joint statement Tuesday condemning the president’s decision as a “monumental mistake.”
“The president’s decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy,” they said in the statement. “This is a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that he was “pleased” by the decision, but he “look[s] forward to hearing more specifics on how the proposed troop number will adequately cover the defined missions as well as provide appropriate force protection for our military and civilian personnel.”