US to keep 9800 troops in Afghanistan after 2014
The United States military will end combat operations at the end of this year, but 9800 Americans will still be in Afghanistan until 2016, say sources at the White House.
The news broke in advance of the president's announcement from the White House on Wednesday.
Obama's decision is largely in line with what military commanders have been seeking and will allow the president to fully end the American-led military effort by the time he leaves office.
The two-year plan is contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign the agreement, U.S. officials are confident that either of the candidates seeking to replace him would give his approval.
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. Those troops would be dispatched throughout Afghanistan and focus on counterterrorism missions and training Afghan security forces. They would not be engaged in combat missions.
Over the course of next year, the number of troops would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.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 American forces would likely be bolstered by a few thousand NATO troops. The total NATO presence, including U.S. troops, is expected to be around 12,000 at the start of next year.
Karzai refused to sign a security agreement , which precipitated a strong reaction from Washington, as Obama threatend to pull out all American troops by the end of this year. But the Afghan presidential election has changed his mind:
After Karzai refused to sign the bilateral security agreement, Obama asked the Pentagon to plan for the possibility that all American forces would withdraw by a year-end 2014 deadline. But given the supportive comments of the candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election, Obama signaled during his holiday weekend trip to Bagram that he was likely to keep some American troops in the country.
"After all the sacrifices we've made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win, and we're going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever, be used again to launch an attack against our country," Obama declared.
At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded.
The inevitable question from civilians will be "Was it worth it"? Overall, our men and women in uniform performed spectacularly and given their mission, executed it in near flawless fashion.
But the proof will be in how the Afghan security forces - military and especially, the police - perform after our combat troops depart. By some accounts, the army is making good progress. Better weapons and training from the US and our NATO allies appears to be having the desired effect. A competent officer corps is slowly being developed and the Afghan army has already proven itself capable in several provinces.
Is it enough to keep the Taliban at bay? No one knows the answer to this question, which is why there is still talk of bringing at least some "good Taliban" into the government. As it stands now, civilian casualties due to fighting in the provinces have risen significantly as the US pulls back. The best that can be said is that there is a rough stalemate between government forces and the Taliban in many rural areas, with the terrorists in control of large swaths of territory. Spectacular terrorist attacks in the capital and larger cities guarantee that the Taliban will continue to try and destablize the government in Kabul.
As Iraq backslides into terrorism and anarchy, it becomes a cautionary tale for Afghanistan. It's clear that the US presence will be vital over the next two years to help Afghan security forces mature into an organization that can successfully protect the government and the people.