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Obama announces plans to end U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by 2016

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President Barack Obama said yesterday the the United States plans to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and pull out the rest by the end of 2016. This would end America's longest war, that was triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, Reuters reported. The decision means that Obama will leave office in early 2017, having extricated the country from the war and leaving his successor a clean slate. Obama ended the United States combat presence in Iraq in 2011.

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Obama's announcement in the White House Rose Garden, as expected, prompted criticism from Republicans that the hard-fought gains made against the Taliban could be lost in much the same way that sectarian violence returned to Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal.

Fox News reported that Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., warned that success in Afghanistan would be difficult if the U.S. is giving its enemies a "date certain" when troops will leave.

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

However, Obama pointed out clearly in an answer to the Republican criticism, "I think Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them."

"At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and we will have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq."

In other words, at the very end of the Obama presidency, every single troop in Iraq and Afghanistan will have been withdrawn from those countries. A complete withdrawal was the centerpiece of the Obama campaign that started in early 2007 against Hillary Clinton and others in the Iowa caucus.

That campaign theme continued through the general election against Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). To this day, McCain is critical of nearly every foreign policy move made by Obama.

As is often said, elections are about the future, and Obama ran on a platform that United States would withdraw from the two countries, and further, would reluctantly engage in any new wars to avoid engagements in long and drawn out wars. The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were the two longest in American history, as Obama noted in the Rose Garden.

Obama will address the graduating class of 2014 at West Point today. "I will travel to West Point and speak to America’s newest class of military officers to discuss how Afghanistan fits into our broader strategy going forward. And I’m confident that if we carry out this approach, we can not only responsibly end our war in Afghanistan and achieve the objectives that took us to war in the first place, we’ll also be able to begin a new chapter in the story of American leadership around the world."

A clearer framework of an "Obama Doctrine" is expected to emerge from the text of the West Point commencement speech.

Sources:

Reuters - Obama plans to end U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by 2016

Politico - Obama on Afghanistan: ‘It’s time to turn the page’

White House transcript of Rose Garden speech on Afghanistan withdrawal

Politico - President Obama looks to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan

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