Obama Plans to Keep Troops in Afghanistan Until 2016 (Updated) (Video)
Updated 3:26 p.m. | President Barack Obama announced Tuesday he intends to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, but would pull out most of the remaining forces by the end of 2016.
Obama said he plans to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan at the start of 2015, provided the next president of Afghanistan signs a new security agreement, as expected. The troop levels would be cut roughly in half by the end of 2015, with troops consolidated to Bagram Airfield.
“When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in harm’s way,” Obama said. “By the end of this year, we will have less than 10,000.”
Obama said the troops staying in Afghanistan would no longer be responsible for combat missions to secure the country, but would continue to target terrorists and train and advise the Afghans.
One top Republican senator on military issues was quick to say that Obama’s plan “emboldens the enemy.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., blasted the news in a series of tweets ahead of the official announcement.
“Announcing that all US forces will be out after 2016 emboldens the enemy,” Graham said, comparing Afghanistan to Iraq. Graham also accused Obama of taking steps that result in “losing” wars.
“President Obama is repeating some of the same mistakes he made in Iraq,” Graham said. “Doing the same thing he did in Iraq and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.”
But in the Rose Garden Tuesday, Obama said it’s time to “turn the page” on more than a decade of war — although troops will be in Afghanistan potentially in harm’s way for closer to 15 years — including all eight years of Obama’s presidency.
It’s still not clear what would happen if the Taliban were able to overrun the country while U.S. troops are stationed there — although the Taliban is considered the Afghans’ responsibility.
Nor did Obama mention that his timing would be adjusted based on conditions on the ground.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., applauded the president’s strategy. “It rightly places the responsibility for Afghanistan’s security with the Afghan government and security forces, while maintaining our ability to aggressively defend against terrorism,” he said in a statement.
Obama said over the weekend at his surprise trip to Afghanistan that he wanted to keep troops in that country past 2015 , while maintaining that the “war” will be over this year.
There will still be fighting by U.S. soldiers, however, with Americans tasked with targeting al-Qaida.
Obama will need Congressional support to continue funding troops in Afghanistan. That isn’t likely to be a problem, although some lawmakers have recently expressed a desire to revisit the use of military force authorization passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.