The reduction in force size from Afghanistan appears to be continuing largely on schedule and in line with commanders' requests, as President Obama announced yesterday that roughly 9,800 U.S. servicemembers will remain in the country at the end of the year. That number is expected to be further halved by the end of 2015, with nearly all U.S. troops withdrawn by the end of 2016. Currently, approximately 32,000 servicemembers remain in Afghanistan, down significantly from a peak of 100,000.
The remaining troops will serve in supporting role to Afghan security forces when the United States’ combat mission in Afghanistan comes to an end this year. “Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country. American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people. … I’ve made it clear that we’re open to cooperating with Afghans on two narrow missions after 2014: training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda,” Obama said.
The planned military presence is dependent upon the Afghan government’s signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement that has already been negotiated in order to balance the authorities needed for U.S. troops to complete their mission and Afghanistan’s own sovereignty. As the president noted, both of the final candidate’s for Afghanistan’s presidency (with elections occurring in just over two weeks) have indicated they plan to sign the agreement.
“The bottom line is, it’s 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,” Obama said. America’s relationship with the country will now be based on support and developmental assistance, rather than being defined by war. “We remain committed to a sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan. And toward that end, we will continue to support Afghan-led efforts to promote peace in their country through reconciliation,” he added.
Both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey expressed support for the president’s proposed troop drawdown timeline, with Dempsey stating that the decision “aligns tasks with resources” and will allow the U.S. military to accomplish their mission.
“This presence … will help ensure that al Qaeda cannot reconstitute itself in Afghanistan, and it will help us sustain the significant progress we have made in training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces,” Hagel said in a statement. “As we bring America's longest war to a responsible end this year, all Americans are grateful for the sacrifice and service of the men and women who deployed there over the past thirteen years. Everyone who has served in Afghanistan should be proud of what they accomplished, and the Afghan people should be confident of America's enduring support for them,” he concluded. ♦