“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 Republicans said in a joint statement.
U.S. forces had already been on track to stop combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, more than 13 years after the American-led invasion. But Obama wants to keep some troops there to train Afghan security forces, launch counterterrorism missions and protect progress made in a war that has left at least 2,181 Americans dead and thousands more wounded.
There are currently about 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Under Obama’s plan, that number would be reduced to 9,800 by the start of 2015, dispatched throughout Afghanistan.
Over the course of next year, the number would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining to staff a security office in Kabul.
The American forces would probably be bolstered by a few thousand NATO troops.
Noting the complexity of his drawdown plan, Obama said, “It’s harder to end wars than to begin them.”
Officials said Obama was outlining his decisions before the conclusion of the Afghan elections and the signing of the security agreement because the military needed to begin making plans. If the security accord is unexpectedly not signed, the drawdown will speed up and all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan, said the administration officials, who briefed reporters after Obama’s announcement on condition they not be identified by name.
The formal end of the Afghan war has triggered a White House effort to reframe America’s foreign policy after more than a decade of conflict. During a commencement address Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama is expected to make the case for an approach to global problems that relies on international consensus.