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Obama announces plans for Afghanistan drawdown

By Julie Pace

AP White House Correspondent

LAST UPDATED: 09:53 a.m. HST, May 27, 2014

WASHINGTON >> Seeking to turn the page on more than a decade of war, President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday for greatly reducing U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of the year and then ending the U.S. military commitment by the end of 2016.

"We have now been in Afghanistan longer than many Americans expected," Obama acknowledged during an appearance in the White House Rose Garden. "Now we're finishing the job we've started."

He said American forces, first sent within a month of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have struck significant blows against al-Qaida's leadership, eliminated Osama bin Laden and prevented Afghanistan from being used as a base against the U.S.

Even as Obama set a timetable for the drawdown, he said he would keep nearly 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan after the U.S. combat mission formally ends later this year. Those troops would focus on training Afghan security forces and on counterterrorism efforts.

The president said his plan was contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the accord, but the U.S. is optimistic that the two candidates seeking to replace him in the ongoing Afghan elections will finalize the agreement. Both have pledged to sign it.

Obama's blueprint calls for cutting the current U.S. force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year. Those troops, dispatched throughout Afghanistan, would not be engaged in combat missions.

Over the course of 2015, 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 Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.

Noting the complexity of his drawdown plan, Obama said, "It's harder to end wars than to begin them."

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 in January 2017.

The American forces would probably 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.

Obama announced the drawdown plan a day after returning from a surprise weekend trip to Afghanistan where he met with U.S. commanders and American forces serving in the closing months of America's longest war.

Top Republicans criticized the plan before Obama had even announced it, taking issue with his decision to publicly declare that troops would be out of Afghanistan after 2016.

"President Obama is not ending wars, he's losing them," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent critic of Obama's foreign policy, wrote on Twitter.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., praised Obama's troop levels but questioned his timing and said that in Iraq he had "abandoned the region to chaos."

"Holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn't make a lick of sense strategically," McKeon said.

Ahead of his remarks, Obama spoke with Karzai, who has had a tumultuous relationship with the White House. The two leaders did not see each other while Obama was in Afghanistan this weekend, but they did speak by phone as Air Force One was returning to Washington.

Obama has also discussed his plans with several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

U.S. military commanders have been arguing for months to keep roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, if only for a limited time, while they bolster the Afghan forces' ability to do long-term logistical planning and increase their air force capabilities. In recent weeks, the military had expressed confidence that they had been able to sell their plans to the White House.

Germany and Italy have said they will continue as lead nations in the north and west of Afghanistan, and there has been some discussion that the U.S. would also have some troops in those areas to work with the allies.

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.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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Maneki_Neko wrote:
History will conclude that Osama Bin Laden won. For a relatively small investment in terror, he changed America forever and for the worse. A trillion dollars, the debasement of our currency, a climate of fear, pervasive government intrusion in all aspects of our lives, thousands of dead and injured Americans, a disillusioned generation and loss of respect around the world.

Another war lost and enormous cost. When will we learn?

on May 27,2014 | 10:10AM
Winston wrote:
Did the war debase our currency? Probably a good bit more complicated than that, given the subprime mess and given the wave of QE by the central bank since the 2008 down turn, and the debt accumulated since then as well. However, with no WMD in Iraq and the election of a passive president in reaction to the war, you're right that we didn't gain from the adventure. Time will tell if the turbulence we created by overthrowing an arab dictator will work for or against radical islam. Could go either way depending on how Iraq, Libya, and Syria turn out.
on May 27,2014 | 02:11PM
hanalei395 wrote:
"History will conclude that Osama Bin Laden won". ...... when Ronald Reagan called Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda (fighting the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980's) ...."freedom fighters". The U.S. supported Reagan's "freedom fighters" with billions of $$$$, and high-tech weapons. And now, where the Russians left off in Afghanistan, the U.S. took over.
on May 27,2014 | 03:54PM
HD36 wrote:
Yes, I'd say since about half of the national deficit is from wars, and to prevent interest rates from rising the Federal Reserve increased it's balance sheet from $800 billion in 2009 to over $4.5 trillion today, he's played a role in the larger scheme of things. Now that he's been gone awhile the war on terror goes on, the Patriot Act was passed, the NSA got more powers, and America will always be in a war against terrorism. Whatever government America wants to overthrow, we can label terrorists. Whatever side we back, we label rebels, or freedom fighters. He was probably the best thing to happen for the military industrial complex.
on May 27,2014 | 06:33PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Yes, that was my point about debasing the currency.
on May 27,2014 | 09:21PM
pcman wrote:
Long overdue, but too little, too late. Obama said he would close the war when he campaigned in 2008. After surging the troops to over 30,000. Now he will bring it back to pre-Obama force strengths. As long as there are troops there, they will get killed by terrorists and nationalists.
on May 27,2014 | 10:46AM
st1d wrote:
at least the local assets were given a chilling warning on their safety with obama's crew outing the station chief. the assets will be best served by leaving the country now looking for safety in exile.

as soon as the u.s. leaves afghanistan, the killing of local assets will escalate.

on May 27,2014 | 12:21PM
HD36 wrote:
Installing a puppet government through the bilateral security agreement will back fire like it did in Iran. Eventually the people of Iran overthrew the Shaw and they all ended up hating the US more.
on May 27,2014 | 06:14PM
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