In a statement before a joint press conference with Afghan president Karzai today, President Obama announced that the war in Afghanistan will end in 2014.
When the president was asked how many troops he would leave in Afghanistan after 2014, he answered, “Our first task has been to meet the transition plan that we sent first in Lisbon then in Chicago.” Obama said the goals for US withdrawal have been met and somewhat accelerated. He stressed that coalition forces will still be president in the spring of 2013, but their role will be training and advisement. The president said that the number of troops precisely in the draw down have yet to be determined. Obama said, “I can’t give you a precise number at this point.”
The president said the two goals for post 2014 are to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces so they can maintain their own security, and the US still wants to go be able to go after the remnants of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Obama said the US footprint in Afghanistan would be much smaller. The president went on to warn that there will not be any troop presence in Afghanistan if the US troops do not have immunity.
President Obama started an answer to second question about the post 2014 mission in Afghanistan by not committing to troops remaining in Afghanistan. The president made it clear that without an immunity agreement there will be no US troops in Afghanistan.
The biggest shift from the Bush years is that all Afghan detainees and dentition centers will be shifted to Afghan control. US troops will also leave Afghan villages.
Later, the president was asked if the war in Afghanistan was worth the human cost. He answered, “I want us to remember why we went into Afghanistan. We went into Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were murdered.” Obama said that it was absolutely the right thing to do go after al-Qaeda, and the government that was hosting them. The president said that by the end of this conflict we will be able to say that the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform brought about the changes we sought.
This press conference made it clear that Obama is leaning towards a leaving a vastly reduced presence in Afghanistan. Obama repeatedly stated that his one goal in Afghanistan has always been to go after al-Qaeda. The president seems to have no interest in nation building in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
The book will close on the last remaining legacy of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 misadventures in nation building in 2014.
Reading between the lines, it certainly appears as if President Obama is only going to leave as many troops in Afghanistan as will be required for counter terrorism operations. The country will finally be extracted from the international quicksand that George W. Bush threw it into after 9/11. For the first time in nearly a decade and a half, the United States can see the light at the end of the perpetual war tunnel.
The fighting may officially come to an end in 2014, but the country and hundreds of thousands of physically, mentally, and emotionally wounded veterans and their families will be dealing with the scars of war for decades to come.