Updated 12:21 p.m. | The next president of the United States will inherit a substantial military presence in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama announced Thursday he will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year and 5,500 at three bases after 2016.
“I do not support the idea of endless war, and I have repeatedly argued against marching into open-ended military conflicts that do not serve our core security interests,” Obama said.
“Yet given what’s at stake in Afghanistan, and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, and the fact that we have an international coalition, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort.”
Obama to Keep Troops, Bases in Afghanistan After 2016
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Obama pointed to Taliban gains and the continuing development of Afghanistan’s own security forces.
“Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be,” he said.
Troops will stay until there’s a political settlement, Obama said.
“By now it should be clear to the Taliban and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress, the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government, and likewise sanctuaries for the Taliban and other terrorists must end,” Obama said.
He noted this wasn’t the first time he’s made adjustments to his plans, and probably would not be the last.
Obama also said more al-Qaida fighters are coming from Pakistan and the Islamic State terror group has popped up in Afghanistan as well. He also noted the Taliban’s recent brief takeover of Kunduz.
Obama said the announcement doesn’t mean troops will have a “combat mission.” Their mission is focused on counterterrorism and advising and training the Afghans, he said.
The three bases to remain will be at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
Republican hawks in Congress such as Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona have warned that removing troops would lead Afghanistan in to chaos like what happened after troops left Iraq.
McCain said in a statement Thursday he was “pleased” with the change in policy, but he expressed doubts that the number of remaining troops will be sufficient.
“It is highly unlikely that a force level of 5,500 troops was recommended as the best professional judgment of our senior military leaders and commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. The bottom line is that 5,500 troops will only be adequate to conduct either the counterterrorism or the train and advise mission, but not both,” the Arizona Republican said. “Our military commanders have said that both are critical to prevent Afghanistan from spiraling into chaos.”
He said it would be better to halt all withdrawals until the next president takes office and can decide what to do next.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was harsher in a statement of his own.
“President Obama is implementing a policy that will require our men and women in uniform to accept an incredibly high risk, with little support, simply because he’s the president who promised to end wars,” said the long-shot GOP presidential candidate.
“President Obama does not follow sound military advice. He seems to have learned nothing from his past mistakes. As president, I will follow the advice of my commanders and require a conditions-based withdrawal — not an artificial timeline. I view a residual force in Afghanistan as protection against 9/11; President Obama views this force as a broken campaign promise.”
Obama Announces Afghanistan Troop Deployment Plans (Full Speech)Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.