US to end presence in Afghanistan by end of 2016

Yesterday, President Barack Obama formally announced the US’ plan for basing troops in Afghanistan after the International Security Assistance Force mission concludes at the end of 2014. Previously, the administration had floated the idea of a “zero option,” or no troops in country, or a residual force of less than 5,000 troops.

The Obama administration has settled on a slightly larger troop presence of about 9,800 troops until the end of 2015. “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,” Obama said.

By the end of 2016, the US military will have withdrawn all of its forces except those needed to maintain an embassy in Kabul.

The troops deployed from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2016 “will be in an advisory role,” Obama said. “We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.”

Instead, the US forces will be “open to cooperating with Afghans on two narrow missions after 2014: training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda,” Obama said. Combat operations against the Taliban, which shelter al Qaeda and allied groups, are no longer on the table.

President Obama stated that “the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come. But our relationship will not be defined by war — it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance, as well as our diplomatic support.” But, as the SIGAR reports have continuously highlighted, the US has grossly mismanaged aid to Afghanistan despite having the ability to oversee its use.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is now set in motion, and it will be time-based, not conditions-based. Obama made clear that this plan will not be adjusted, even if the Taliban make significant gains:

We remain committed to a sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan. And toward that end, we will continue to support Afghan-led efforts to promote peace in their country through reconciliation. We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one. The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans. But what the United States can do — what we will do — is secure our interests and help give the Afghans a chance, an opportunity to seek a long, overdue and hard-earned peace.

Additionally, the Obama administration continues to push the line that al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has suffered a strategic defeat, in order to justify the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Expect to hear the term “remnants of al Qaeda” used more often to describe the terror group’s leadership in the region, despite the fact that this is far from the truth. How else do top al Qaeda leaders in Yemen and Syria, as well as leaders from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, and even a top ideologue in a Jordanian prison, remain in contact with al Qaeda’s General Command if the group is comprised merely of “remnants”?

Finally, the Obama administration continues to cling to the idea that the Taliban are willing to reconcile with the Afghan government. The Taliban couldn’t be more clear in both statements and deeds. After announcing their 2014 spring offensive, the Taliban have gone on a rampage, conducted numerous attacks, and even overrun a district center in a northern province.

The US’ role in the Afghan war will come to an end in December 2016, but the war will be far from over, as the Taliban and al Qaeda and their allies remain committed to their jihad.

We’ve seen this same scenario play out in Iraq, where the Iraqi military, which was far better prepared than the Afghan military to take on the mission of securing the country, has faltered in its fight against al Qaeda’s splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Expect no less in Afghanistan as the US ends it involvement there.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Stephanie says:

    I think this is a terrible idea. Hasn’t Al-Qaida just recently gloated that the winner in the war is the one who doesn’t quit, citing past examples of the US abandoning efforts in Iraq, etc.? It sounds to me like they are going to take this as they are succeeding in breaking the Americans’ will and it will surely be majorly exploited as propaganda.

  • A reader says:

    This is a victory for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Pakistan.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    This theater has been decided ever since President Obama announce the “surge” (reluctantly), and with the same breath pontificated that it would end at a predetermined date. It’s all over but the body count. It will be extremely difficult for the next Administration to re-engage militarily/politically. It’s a train wreck. No wonder Karzai is looking after his own scalp. Ironically, the Obama doctrine will lead to unnecessary (probably hundreds of thousands) lives lost in these areas. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements are waiting in the wings. They are ignorant people (limited education/extremely religious), but they are NOT STUPID, and they are committed to their cause.They won’t engage any government/allied elements in large scale until the Allies retreat. I’ve had extensive experience in the third world (Middle east, Africa, and South America), don’t under estimate these guys. They have unlimited, deep pools for recruitment for their causes. In this theater, life is cheap IMHO. FUBAR.

  • LWJ reader says:

    If a Technologically Superior Country(S) & some would say Morally Superior Country(S) can’t DECISIVELY beat into Nothingness, ZERO, Zip Zero Nada, all gone forever…Cavemen, Women and Children in 12+ yrs……
    Pretend, Explain Away, Dis-Inform, Contort, Twist, Propagandize….till fingers fall off, faces are blue and History is Re-Written… Again!!
    But here’s a UNDENIABLE FACT,
    They are AND will be, still there doing there thing long after the last Westerner that fought or fights there leaves and Dies of Natural Causes!!!
    Total Decimation of the Enemy and it’s Resistance isn’t Expensive from a Monetary stand point…
    But in Todays World….it doesn’t make for good Headlines, PR OR Diplomatic Dinner Talk.

  • kush dragon says:

    @Stephanie – I respectfully disagree
    The sad fact of this matter is that Afghanistan and the US/Western Allies have had nearly 13 years, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, untold billions of dollars/euros, some of the worlds top militarys and their respective technologies and multiple presidents, prime ministers and countless diplomats to turn the situation in Afghanistan into something resembling acceptable. As we all know this goal has failed miserably, and while I won’t go into the many reasons for that I think its about time we cut our losses and try something different. This Afghan government and its military have become a parasite on our economy, foreign relations and military. Equipment that is specifically intended for the Afghan military is stolen on a regular basis, from where it is sold on the black market, given to the enemy or simply disappears. This is to say nothing of Pakistan, the true power behind this insurgency and one of the least trustworthy, helpful or beneficial of allies in history, for any country.
    I know the withdrawal probably seems like nothing but a defeat for ISAF countries, but I really believe it will have some positive effects. For one, the withdrawal from Afghanistan will save coalition nations a good amount of money that is no longer spent on locking that country down, developing it, etc. For two we will forcibly eject the ridiculous Pakistani and Afghan governments from the American gravy train. U.S. aid drying up would force Afghanistan to stand on its own or fall (and I could care less what it forces of the Pakistani government). And it is a possibility they will fall, but at some point that question needs to be determined. A permanent, generation-long occupation of Afghanistan is not economically or politically sustainable.
    To finish my point, I have to say that I agree with Obama when he states, “We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place”. By no means do i believe Obama has done a good job handling this war or most of his presidency, but he is correct on this issue. The kind of occupation that would require is far beyond what we are able or willing to perform. And in any event I really have no doubt that airstrikes and special forces will be utilized in Afghanistan post 2016 by the West, even if it will be denied/covered up in most of the media. If the Taliban do end up gaining more control these might even be made easier if high profile targets start letting down their guard.

  • Bungo says:

    It’s time for the Afghans to step up. If the AQ’s threaten or attack The West I feel confident the response will be swift and appropriate. It’s the right plan at this time.

  • Rune says:

    It’s not so much the right plan at this time, as Karzai’s best shot at not getting killed, from what I’ve understood. Obama has just informed us of Karzais plan going forward, which we’ve spent over a year trying to avoid.
    We’ve lost the opportunity to move missions from this country to Pakistan or any others surrounding it, we’ve lost the ground, we’re dumping equipment and leaving it in Afghanistan because “transport costs are too high”, we’re continnuing to train (equip) their mil and as a special bonus we’ll be funding Afghanistan for our troubles the same way we fund Pakistan.
    In addition to this, we’ve just given the same Taliban that we’re not allowed to pursue the leadership our mil spilled sweat and blood to get *off the field, while they shelter the people who, for whatever reason, are still on the legal to hunt list. They’re all the same people. We’ve been hunting them together for years because they *work together*.
    Obama could have waited to work out terms with Karzai’s successor. Instead he’s accepted all of this from Karzai. He’s giving us Iraq again, with a diplomatic mission that could well meet the same fate Libya’s has.
    Afghan’s body count has exceeded Iraq’s since Obama came into office. I’m just hoping that count isn’t doubled by the time we finally get him out.

  • Moose says:

    @kush dragon
    You’re right on all points. This war was pointless in a way b/c it didn’t address Pakistan as a major source of terrorism and THE COUNTRY THAT IS KILLING OUR TROOPS.
    Our drones will turn Afghanistan into a Yemen-style operation. Our enemy is fragmented and thus much more nimble compared to the centralized organization it used to be. We must adjust our strategy.
    Btw, it should have been expected that AQ would reestablish its communication lines and networks, especially with Pakistan’s help. It’s hardly a sign of real strength. Talk to me when AQ reestablishes camps like Derunta in Afghanistan where they can train with chemical weapons.
    AQ has been reduced to a shadow of its former self in the Af-Pak region, but the ideology will take generations, if not centuries, to defeat. That’s why it’s called the “long war.”


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