WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will seek to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally ends later this year and then will withdraw most of those forces by the end of 2016, senior administration officials said Tuesday.
While 22,000 troops are scheduled to return to the U.S. by the end of this year, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, responded after the President’s announcement that she is “disappointed that the timeline has stretched to the end of 2016.
“My position is and always has been that we should remove all troops as quickly and safely as possible,” Hanabusa said. “I believe we can and should achieve the goal of bringing our troops home and drawing down to a standard diplomatic presence in Afghanistan sooner than the President’s timeline proposes.”
Obama’s decision is largely in line with what military commanders have been seeking and will allow the president to fully end the American-led military effort by the time he leaves office.
The two-year plan is contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign the agreement, U.S. officials are confident that either of the candidates seeking to replace him would give his approval.
The plan calls for the U.S. military to draw down from its current force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year. Those troops, dispatched throughout Afghanistan, would focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces. They would not be engaged in combat missions.
Over the course of next year, the number of troops 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 Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.
The American forces would probably be bolstered by a few thousand NATO troops. The total NATO presence, including U.S. troops, is expected to be around 12,000 at the start of next year.
Obama announced the plan at the White House Tuesday afternoon. He is just back from a surprise weekend trip to Afghanistan where he met with U.S. commanders and American forces serving in the closing months of America’s longest war.