President Obama announced Tuesday that he aims to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally ends later this year, while pledging a near-total withdrawal by the end of 2016.
Obama, speaking from the White House Rose Garden, said was "time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
This “new chapter in American foreign policy,” he said, will allow the United States to redirect military spending and “to respond more nimbly … to other priorities around the world.”
Obama said the plan transfers responsibility for security to the host country. Ultimately, he said, “the future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.”
The plan drew criticism from several U.S. senators: Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte.
The remaining US military presence would train Afghan forces and support counter-terrorism operations.
But the plan depends on the Afghans signing a joint security agreement.
While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign such an agreement, the Obama administration appears to be confident either of the two candidates seeking to replace him would do so.
The two-year plan is contingent on the next Afghan president signing a bilateral security agreement that Obama wants before the U.S. will agree to leave behind troops to help train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations. Both leading candidates in the June 14 run-off election, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have indicated they would sign it, Obama said.
Before his remarks, Obama spoke with outgoing Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to brief him on the plan, Reuters reported. Karzai has had a tumultuous relationship with the White House.
The two leaders did not see each other while Obama was in Afghanistan, but they did speak by phone as Air Force One was returning to Washington.
The two-year plan is contingent on the next Afghan president signing a bilateral security agreement that Obama wants before the U.S. will agree to leave behind troops to help train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations.
Under the scenario envisioned by Obama, the plan calls for the U.S. military to draw down from its current force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year.
Over the next year, the number of troops would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, the AP reported. Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.
The U.S. currently has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000. All have been part of the U.S.\’s 13-year effort to destroy al-Qaida operations it says were responsible for the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people.