WASHINGTON DC: Announcing the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan during a press conference in the White House on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said that by the end of 2014, the US will bring to a responsible end the war in Afghanistan with only 9,800 troops remaining in the war torn country at the beginning of 2015.
However, he warned that as the US looks to end its intervention in Afghanistan by the end of 2016, Afghans will have to pick up the pieces of their country.
“Afghanistan will not be a perfect place and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one.”
Obama said that when he first took office, there were 180,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. But by the end of 2016, it will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul with a security assistance component.
“We have eliminated Osama bin Laden, and we have prevented Afghanistan from being used to launch attacks against our homeland,” said Obama.
Earlier, a senior administration official told reporters, “We will only sustain a military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement.”
“Assuming a BSA is signed, at the beginning of 2015, we will have 9,800 US service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners,” the official continued. “By the end of 2015, we would reduce that presence by roughly half, consolidating US troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. The figures were later echoed by Obama.
“And one year later, by the end of 2016, we will draw down to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as we have done in Iraq.”
Obama had visited US forces in Afghanistan on Sunday, and spoke briefly by telephone with outgoing Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, who is due to step down this year after a June election run-off. Both candidates in that run-off vote, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have indicated they would sign the security agreement proposed by Washington if elected president.
Around 51,000 US-led NATO troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan supporting Kabul in its fight against Taliban rebels, who launched a fierce insurgency after being ousted from power in 2001.
The White House issued a fact sheet regarding the US invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent developments.
Pakistan worried about uncertainty of US troops in Afghanistan
Meanwhile, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin E Dempsey said that he had communicated President Obama’s decision to his Pakistani counterpart Gen Rashad Mahmood who was pleased with the news.
According to a statement by Dempsey released by the US Department of Defense on Tuesday after Obama announced that there will only be 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year, the US General had called Gen Mahmood.
Dempsey noted that Gen Rashad and Pakistan had worried about the effect the uncertainty of US troops in the region was having on Afghanistan.
On the announcement itself, Gen Dempsey said it was one that “aligns tasks with resources.”
Gen Dempsey said that as long as the tasks and resources are aligned, the US military can execute the decision.
Obama’s decision is contingent on Afghanistan signing the bilateral security agreement with the United States, and it will be focused on two missions: advising and assisting Afghan national security forces and a counterterrorism mission against the remnants of al Qaida in the area.
Gen Dempsey also called Afghan chief of defense Gen Sher Mohammed Karimi about the decision.
“When I spoke to him and informed him of the president’s [Obama] decision to provide Operation Resolute Support with approximately 9,800 US service members in a regional construct, he said ‘Thank God.’”
Dempsey said he told Karimi that he was pleased to hear him answer that way. “He said to me, ‘We’re very happy with that. That certainty will allow us to continue our transition, and we deeply appreciate what America’s sons and daughters have done for us over the years.’”
For months, military leaders have recommended the United States keep around 10,000 personnel in Afghanistan once the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force mission ends December 31. Uncertainty about the bilateral security agreement has complicated the situation.
As Afghan forces continue to develop, administration officials expect the number of US service members based in the country to drop. By the end of 2015, officials expect the number of American troops in the country to drop to around 4,500.
The number of troops allows for a regional approach to the assist-and-advise mission, officials said. The headquarters will be in the Afghan capital of Kabul, with regional centers at Bagram Airfield, Kandahar, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat. As the number of troops drop, these forces will be consolidated in Kabul and Bagram. By the end of 2016, officials expect a normal US embassy presence with a security assistance office.