President Barack Obama outlined his plan for ending the war in Afghanistan on Tuesday during a special address from Bagram Air Base in which he sent clear messages to detractors on both ends of the political spectrum.
Obama, delivering his speech on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, said the U.S. would gradually extract its nearly 90,000 troops from Afghanistan and transition combat operations to indigenous security forces by 2014.
The president then addressed hawkish critics on the right who claim that broadcasting an exit date was a strategic military blunder because now the Taliban can simply bide time until U.S. forces leave before they run roughshod through Afghanistan.
Obama argued that the U.S. does not intend to seek out and destroy every last vestige of the Taliban, but that the primary goal has always been to eliminate Al Qaeda safe-havens and ensure the Afghans can stand on their own, as he put it on Tuesday:
"Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that. Afghans want to fully assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear timeline to wind down the war."
Presumably, Obama’s target date will incentivize Afghan political and military officials to ensure the country is ready for a more independent status, because after 2014 Kabul won’t be able to completely rely on the U.S. for life support.
To the anti-war crowd Obama explained that a precipitous drawdown would be too risky because the U.S. must leave a modicum of stability in its wake or anti-government forces will take advantage of the situation.
Before heading for the exit doors the U.S. has a duty to properly train Afghan army and police personnel so they can adequately defend their homeland against a Taliban onslaught.
Obama emphasized this sentiment, saying "we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly".