WASHINGTON, DC – In a Wednesday evening speech, US President Barack Obama announced a plan to withdraw 33,000 US troops from Afghanistan over the next two years and completely hand over security to Afghan forces by 2014. He said that the US and its allies had largely achieved their objective of denying Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan. As a consequence, he said, the US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan would change from “combat to support.”
Shortly after assuming the presidency in 2009, President Obama announced a plan to send a “surge” of 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan in what he called in the speech “one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made as president.”
He said he had done so with three objectives in mind: “to refocus on Al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.”
Citing progress in those objectives, the president has established a timeline for bringing those “surge” troops home.
“Starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer,” Obama said.
“After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead... By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security,” he said.
The US currently has 90,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, making up the bulk of the 132,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Obama said the US is starting the drawdown from a position of strength, with Al Qaeda under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. “Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership,” he said.
“The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain,” he said.
“Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support. Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done,” he said.
Obama also announced that Chicago will host a summit of NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition in Afghanistan.
Reiterating that the United States supports the Afghan-led process of reconciliation, Obama said there is no dilution in conditions for talks with the Taliban -- they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.
Obama clarified that the US is in Afghanistan not for nation building but to prevent the country from being used as a terrorist safe haven.
“We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely. That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace,” he said.
“What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government,” Obama said.
The US President said ISAF efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. “No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region,” he said.
“We'll work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us. They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve,” Obama warned. (Pajhwok)