Just 10 days from beginning his second term in office, President Obama today announced an accelerated withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan — with President Hamid Karzai at his side.
Karzai arrived in Washington on Tuesday at the invitation of Obama, and today sat down to discuss the U.S.-Afghanistan Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in May 2012.
The White House said the progress of the Afghan National Security Forces gave reason to reconsider the timeline: In February, officials said, Afghan forces are expected to control 90 percent of security operations.
“Consistent with Afghan priorities, Leaders at the Chicago Summit committed to mark a milestone in mid-2013 when the ISAF mission would shift from combat to support. President Obama welcomed President Karzai’s desire to mark this milestone this spring, when the ANSF are expected to assume the operational lead across Afghanistan, and ISAF will move into an advisor-support role. This milestone would coincide with announcing the fifth and final tranche of transition, which would commence implementation in the summer, subject to final NATO and Afghan approval,” said a statement from the White House.
“At the time of the milestone, most unilateral U.S. combat operations should end, with U.S. forces pulling back their patrols from Afghan villages. Both Leaders recognized that, as the Afghan security forces take greater responsibility for security, improving the quality of the ANSF, including the accelerated provision of appropriate equipment and enablers, remains a key priority.”
“Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will be an historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty — something I know that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Karzai, adding that in the “coming months” he’ll announce the next troop drawdown.
“I’m very happy to hear from the President, as we also discussed it earlier, that in spring this year the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people, and that the international forces, the American forces will be no longer present in Afghan villages, that the task will be that of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection,” Karzai said.
“During our conversations, and perhaps many times in that conversation, beginning with the conversation, of course, I thanked the President for the help that the United States has given to the Afghan people, for all that we have gained in the past 10 years, and that those gains will be kept by any standard while we are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including the respect for Afghan constitution,” the Afghan leader added.
Congressional Democrats have been pressuring Obama to transition U.S. forces out of combat operations.
“President Obama’s announcement today regarding his policy winding down the war in Afghanistan was a step forward,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “A faster transition to Afghan led operations will shift U.S. troops from a combat to support role by the middle of this year. I urge the President to use this momentum to speed up and increase the drawdown of U.S. combat troops.”
“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I stand ready to work with the President and the Department of Defense on solutions to continuing U.S. security in South East Asia that does not involve the presence of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan,” she said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today sent Obama a letter urging him to minimize the number of combat troops in Afghanistan for the purpose of putting a focus on domestic rebuilding.
“Today, I sent a letter to President Obama respectfully urging him to adopt a plan that narrows our mission in Afghanistan and brings our troops home,” Manchin said. “This war is the longest in American history and it has cost us dearly. The only troops remaining should be there to make sure Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for al-Qaeda or international terrorists. It is time to bring our troops home as quickly as possible so that we can focus our resources on rebuilding America, not Afghanistan.”