Obama stresses Afghan troop withdrawal
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s decision to bring home within a year about half of the 66,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan will shrink the force to the size he found it when he entered the White House vowing to reinvigorate a stalemated war.
Still to be decided: how many troops will remain beyond 2014, when the U.S.-led combat mission is scheduled to end. The stated goal is to prepare Afghanistan’s army and police to handle the Taliban insurgency largely on their own by then.
Obama determined that his war goals could be achieved by bringing 34,000 U.S. troops home by this time next year, officials said, leaving somewhere between 32,000 and 34,000 to support and train Afghan forces. That is about the number in Afghanistan when he took office in January 2009; in a series of moves designed to reverse the Taliban’s battlefield momentum he tripled the total American force before starting to scale it back in the summer of 2011.
Obama’s new move coincides with a major shakeup in his war command. Gen. Joseph Dunford took over Sunday for Gen. John Allen as the commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is planning to retire as soon as his replacement is confirmed. Obama has nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel to take the Pentagon post.
The decision also reflects Obama’s determination to wind down a war that is the longest in America’s history. He has many other security problems to consider around the globe — from North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons to civil war in Syria to the worrisome spread of al-Qaida affiliated terrorist groups in the Middle East and North Africa.
In advance of Obama’s announcement in his State of the Union speech, the White House said the president made his decision about 2013 troop reductions based on recommendations by the military and his national security advisers, as well as consultations with allies such as Britain and Germany and talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
A Pentagon statement said Panetta fully supports Obama’s troop reductions.