President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he plans to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after the war officially ends later this year and will work towards an almost complete withdrawal by the end of his term in office.
Obama intends to gradually withdraw troops over the next two years. During the peak of the war there were around 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. There are currently an estimated 33,000 troops, hopefully down to 9,800 troops by the start of next year.
According to Associated Press, those troops would be dispatched throughout Afghanistan and will focus on counterterrorism missions and training Afghan security forces. They would not be engaged in combat missions. They report that over the course of next year, the number of troops will be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Remaining forces would mostly be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.
The War in Afghanistan, which started shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in an effort to dismantle al-Qaeda, is the U.S.’s longest running war– and an extremely expensive one – costing over 2,000 U.S. military lives and 600 billion dollars. AP reports that the plan is “largely in line with what military commanders have been seeking.” The withdrawal plan is contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai refuses to sign the agreement, both candidates seeking to replace him have pledged to sign upon election.
Obama was in Afghanistan this weekend on a “surprise trip,” but reportedly only talked to Karzai on the phone. Reuters reports that Karzai has long expressed anger at civilian deaths in Afghanistan. He told the Washington Post in an interview in March that he believes al-Qaeda is “more a myth than a reality,” that the majority of the United States’ prisoners were innocent and that he’s certain that the war was “for the U.S. security and for the Western interest.”
If no one signs the agreement, U.S. troops will have to be completely withdrawn by the end of 2014.
Reuters reports Obama joined troops stationed at Bagram Air Base on Sunday. He shared with them his intentions to bring the war to a “responsible end”
"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 told them.