WASHINGTON — Charting an end to America’s longest war, President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday for keeping nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after this year but then withdrawing virtually all by the close of 2016 and the conclusion of his presidency.
The drawdown would allow Obama to bring America’s military engagement in Afghanistan to an end while seeking to protect the gains made in a war in which he significantly intensified U.S. involvement.
“We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one,” Obama declared during an appearance in the White House Rose Garden.
He credited American forces, which were first deployed by President George W. Bush within a month of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with striking significant blows against al-Qaida’s leadership, eliminating Osama bin Laden and preventing Afghanistan from being used as a base for strikes against the U.S. He said: “Now we’re finishing the job we’ve started.”
The drawdown blueprint is contingent on Afghanistan’s government signing a stalled bilateral security agreement. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the accord, U.S. officials say they’re confident that either of the candidates running to replace him will finalize the deal.
In fact, both candidates who are on the ballot in next month’s runoff — former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — welcomed Obama’s announcement Tuesday.
The size and scope of the residual U.S. force largely mirrors what Pentagon officials had sought, which appeared to give Obama cover with some Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But some of president’s harshest critics on foreign policy — Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — called the decision short-sighted and warned that it would embolden enemies.