Senior U.S. military officials say American troops may remain stationed in Afghanistan for “decades” longer than originally planned, according to The Washington Post.
Although an exit strategy has long been anticipated for the U.S. military in the region, and in fact was a key component of President Barack Obama’s initial foreign policy plans for Afghanistan, ongoing instability coupled with the recognition that building an effective Afghan force is a “generation’s commitment” have led top U.S. military commanders to reject the idea of a quick withdrawal.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan dates back to 2001, when U.S. troops invaded Kabul after the attacks of 9/11. The original goal was to fight back the al-Qaida insurgency, members of which had carried out the terror attacks, that was being sheltered by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. After democratic elections took place in 2004, U.S. troops remained to continue fighting an active militant base throughout the country.
When Obama began his presidency in 2009, he unveiled plans for a slow but complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Although he planned to leave several thousand soldiers behind in an advisory role to train Afghan military and police, the plan was always to end the seemingly “endless war” the U.S. was fighting there.
Over the following years, numerous insurgent attacks led Obama to continue to push back plans for withdrawal. Now, 9,800 troops remain stationed in Afghanistan, with some serving in an advisory role and others actively pursuing militants in the region.
Plans to scale back U.S. involvement there have now been delayed further, with military spokesmen saying Washington’s current policy of decreasing troop presence by 2017 is unrealistic.
“What we’ve learned is that you can’t really leave,” a senior Pentagon official, speaking anonymously, told The Washington Post. “The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics. They are not going to be ready in three years or five years. You have to be there for a very long time.”