President Obama is set to announce that the U.S. will leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 if the Afghan government signs a bilateral security agreement allowing their presence, a senior administration official said Tuesday. The announcement is scheduled for 2:45 p.m.
The president reiterated his pledge to bring the nearly 13-year war to a close by the end of 2014 this week during a surprise Memorial Day Weekend visit to Afghanistan on Sunday and his remarks at Arlington National Cemeterycommemorating the holiday on Monday. But the future of U.S. troop presence has been uncertain for months as Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay after the combat mission is concluded at the end of this year.
The candidates running to replace Karzai have indicated they will sign an agreement, but the uncertainty has delayed the U.S. military's ability to plan for the future.
The senior administration official said the number of troops would be reduced by half by the end of 2015 and moved to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as is the case in Iraq, by the end of 2016.
The president has identified two missions in the country after 2014: training Afghan forces and supporting counter terror operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.
"We believe that the long-term solution for Afghan security is not U.S. forces, it's Afghan forces, and that we've trained and equipped an Afghan National Security Force that needs to be responsible for securing their country," a senior administration official said ahead of the president's announcement. "This has never been a situation where the United States was signing on to provide security in Afghanistan indefinitely."
Speaking to soldiers at Bagram Air Field this weekend, the president said he hoped to sign a bilateral security agreement to "preserve all the gains that you have helped win." He said he wants to ensure that Afghanistan will never again be used to launch an attack on the U.S., as it was in September 2001.
Mr. Obama will also deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point Wednesday, where he is expected to expand on and defend his approach to the recent foreign policy crises the country has faced.
In response to the president's announcement, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed the announcement that the U.S. would maintain a troop presence in Afghanistan after the end of the year but warned against separating the decision making from conditions on the ground.
"It has been my long-standing position that input from our commanders about the conditions on the ground should dictate troop decisions, and not an arbitrary number from Washington," Boehner said. "I am pleased that today's decision supports our military's request for forces, but I look forward to hearing more specifics on how the proposed troop number will adequately cover the defined missions as well as provide appropriate force protection for our military and civilian personnel."
Overall, however, Boehner has advocated for continuing U.S. involvement if it is necessary. In the statement, he said the biggest takeaway from his trip to Afghanistan last month is that, "the most potentially damaging and completely avoidable is quitting just short of the goal line"
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