In the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday, President Obama announced the plan to draw down the military forces in Afghanistan to 9,800 from its current level of 32,000 by the beginning of 2015.
The president continued saying, “By the end of 2015 we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and will have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul with a security assistance component just as we have done in Iraq.”
Obama said, after the drawdown of the troops, the international community will continue to support afghans as they continue to build their country in the years to come.
But, Obama pointed out that the U.S. “will only sustain this military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 if the Afghan government signs the bilateral security agreement that our two governments have already negotiated.”
That agreement is expected to be signed by the winner of the presidential elections immediately after they take office.
The President’s speech today drew immediate criticism from Republicans. In a joint statement, Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte said, “The president’s decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy,” the three said in a statement. “This is a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly. … It will fuel the growing perception worldwide that America is unreliable, distracted and unwilling to lead.”
This weekend, Obama surprised the troops at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan by making a visit there. He opened with, “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by.” The opening remark was greeted with applause. His visit there was mainly to thank the troops for their service and he only touched lightly on the withdrawal news that he directed his speech toward today.
On Wednesday, Obama plans on giving the commencement address at the West Point Military Academy.