Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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What Next for Afghanistan? Making Sense of President Obama’s Rose Garden Announcement

by Janine Davidson
May 27, 2014

afghanistan obama drawdown U.S. President Barack Obama delivers an announcement on the number of U.S. troops that will remain in Afghanistan after the formal troop drawdown at the end of this year, in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 27, 2014. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)


Today, President Obama announced his plan for winding down the thirteen-year intervention in Afghanistan.  On the military side, here is the summary on how many troops will remain and what they will be doing:

By the end of 2014 we will have 9,800 U.S. troops (down from the current 32,000).  The mission will be focused on helping the Afghans fight the Taliban, continuing to build up the Afghan security forces capability and capacity while disrupting the remaining al-Qaeda.

By the end of 2015, we will have half that number, and they will no longer be conducting any combat missions—no more patrolling, etc.  They will be focused in Kabul and Bagram Airbase advising Afghan security forces, who will have the lead.

As the President states, “America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country.  American personnel will be in an advisory role.  We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys.  That is a task for the Afghan people.”

After 2015, we can expect a residual force in what he calls a “normal” embassy support posture.

Of course, if the incoming Afghan president (who will be decided in the run off in two weeks) decides not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, the United States will pull out completely.  Zero troops.

The good news is that the President did not heed the calls from some skeptics to downsize below the Pentagon’s requested force level of 10,000.  This gives the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) a bit more time to take over.  If all goes well, the remaining trick will be to convince Congress to continue funding the advising and equipping efforts for the ANSF as well as other economic aid, which together will allow Afghanistan to continue the positive trajectory that has been set after thirteen years of fighting and building by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the wider international community.

But Afghanistan is not out of the woods yet.  2014 will be, as President Obama calls it a “pivotal” year.  As long as the ANSF can hold the Taliban back as ISAF troops make for the exits, the Obama Administration will be able to “pivot” to its other longer term foreign policy priorities, including the “rebalance” to Asia, support to NATO against an increasingly aggressive Russia, Syria, Iran, and counter-terrorism efforts from the Middle East to Africa.

Editor’s Note: This post originally misstated estimated U.S. troop presence in post-2016 Afghanistan. This error has been corrected.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Matt

    Same sort of thing Bush left him, Obama is leaving the next President. Bush set in stone we would leave Iraq. But if the next President want to get out the chisel. If you don’t the decision is already made. And you have to seriously think about reversing such a decision, before you do it. Iraq is no longer a state sponsor of terror or a threat to its neighbors. So it is not a threat to US interests. If a similar thing occurs in Afghanistan while it is different not being a state in the first place etc. How messy it is domestically is not our problem. Karzai always say the US would never leave, well they are. Warned numerous times not to push it. 2024 is gone, why 9,800 not 10,000 out of principa, he was warned about dates and numbers. The fact is there is 2 days in June for this current plan to be implemented or every leaves by the end of the year. All our enemies and detractors will say it was a failed mission, I don’t see it that way, mission complete. The mission is what ever the President says it is. What was asked has been done. We said to Karzai we would erode not defeat the insurgency, create a buffer, build up and ANSF and offer residual support and then al-Qaida. All boxes ticked. Now for them sink or swim.

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