POLITICS: PennAve

Obama plans to cut U.S. presence in Afghanistan

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Politics,White House,The Pentagon,Barack Obama,Army,Afghanistan,Iraq,National Security,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Terrorism

This story was published at 11:29 a.m. and has been updated.

President Obama plans to cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan dramatically by the end of the year and announced the next steps in winding down the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday afternoon.

With the combat mission in Afghanistan ending in December, Obama made clear that the U.S. is open to continued efforts in two “narrow missions” -- training Afghan forces and supporting counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda -- after 2014, according to a senior administration official.

"The bottom line is, it's time to turn the page on a decade of war in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on Afghanistan and Iraq," he told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden.

At the beginning of his presidency, Obama said there were 180,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the end of this year, there will be fewer than 10,000. There are currently 32,000 servicemen in Afghanistan.

"This new chapter in America's foreign policy" and the shift in resources will allow the U.S. to respond "more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism" around the world, Obama said, noting that "it's harder to end wars than to begin them."

Obama also plans to lay out a choice for the next leader of Afghanistan. The U.S. will only sustain a military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement, a document designed to lay out the parameters of the long-term strategic partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan after the drawdown of troops is completed by the end of the year.

Both Afghan presidential candidates recently reiterated their intentions to sign the agreement quickly if elected, the White House said.

If the BSA is signed, at the beginning of 2015, the U.S. will have 9,800 U.S. servicemen and women in different parts of the country, along with NATO allies and other partners.

By the end of 2015, the U.S. plans to reduce that presence by roughly half, consolidating U.S. troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield, Obama plans to announce. One year later, by the end of 2016, the US. will further draw down to a “normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as we have done in Iraq,” according to the senior administration official.

U.S. military leaders had requested that roughly 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year.

"We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it's not America's responsibility to make it one," Obama said. "... But what the U.S can do and will do is to secure our interests and help give the Afghanistan a chance to seek a long overdue" peace.

Reacting to the news, Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were pleased that Obama decided to keep 9,800 troops there until the end of 2015 but criticized the announcement for detailing the U.S. exit strategy.

“I’m pleased the White House met the military’s request for forces in Afghanistan," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "However, holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn’t make a lick of sense strategically."

McKeon said the decision to broadcast the drawdown timeline replicates mistakes Obama made in Iraq, "where he abandoned the region to chaos and failed to forge a real security partnership?"

Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte released a joint statement calling Obama's decision to telecast his withdrawal plans a "monumental mistake" and a "triumph of politics over strategy."

"This is a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly," the senators said.

Senior administration officials told reporters that the performance of Afghan security forces against the Taliban has improved in recent months, although the Taliban "remains a fairly resilient force." The success of the recent presidential election in the face of threats from the Taliban is a positive sign, the official said.

The official said the U.S. never "signed up" to be a permanent fighting force in Afghanistan against the Taliban and said announcing the drawdown timeline is "prudent planning" for the U.S. military, the State Department and NATO partners.

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