Obama To Announce Afghan Troop Withdrawal
During tonight’s State of the Union Address, President Obama will announce that half of the American troops currently in Afghanistan will be home in a year:
WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to announce in his State of Union address on Tuesday night that half of the 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan will be home by this time next year, according to an administration official familiar with the speech.
The decision by Mr. Obama represents a careful balancing of political interests and military requirements. The announcement enables him to say that slightly more than half of the American force — 34,000 troops — will be out of Afghanistan by next February, keeping on track a plan to hand over security responsibility to Afghan troops by the end of 2014.
But the plan also gives the military commanders in Afghanistan the flexibility they have long sought in determining the pace of the reductions. Under the phased withdrawal, this official said, commanders will have a “robust force” for the next fighting season, which ends in September and October.
The commanders want to hold on to sufficient forces — including troops, airpower and medical evacuation units — to support the Afghan troops during this transition. They also want to try to consolidate military gains before rapidly drawing down American forces.
At the same time, the official said, the pace of the drawdown will be rapid enough that it will prod Afghan forces to take on greater responsibility for securing the country. The danger of leaving too many American troops for too long, he said, is that the security situation could “go off a cliff” after the United States largely withdraws.
Afghan troops are scheduled to move into a lead role this spring, under an accelerated transition of security responsibility that Mr. Obama announced when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan visited Washington last month. Mr. Obama planned to call Mr. Karzai later on Tuesday morning to inform him of the planned announcement.
Things certainly do seem to be moving forward toward a withdrawal by the end of the 2014. The only remaining question is the size of any residual force that many be left behind. Estimates of such a force have ranged anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 troops, but I suspect that, if such a force does remain, it’s going to be on the smaller side of that estimate.