WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2015 —
President Barack Obama announced at the
White House today that he will keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2016 and
a lesser number into 2017 to sustain coalition efforts to train and strengthen
Joining Obama at the podium were Vice
President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph
F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As part of a four-step plan that he said
would best ensure lasting progress in Afghanistan, Obama said he would maintain
the current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of 2016.
Rather than reduce troop levels to a normal
embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, Obama said the United States will
maintain 5,500 troops and a small number of bases, including at Bagram and Jalalabad
in the east and Kandahar in the south.
The mission in Afghanistan will not change,
the president said.
“Our forces … will remain engaged in two
narrow, but critical, missions,” the president said, “training Afghan forces
and supporting counterterrorist operations against the remnants of al-Qaida.”
Obama said he decided on new troop levels after
a request in March by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for continued support and following
consultations with his national security team, international partners and members
of Congress, and with Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
“America's combat mission in Afghanistan is
over, but the commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” Obama said.
The final parts of Obama’s plan are to work
with allies and partners to align the U.S. plan with their own presence in
Afghanistan after 2016, and to continue to support Ghani and the national unity
government as they pursue critical reforms.
“In Afghanistan,” Obama said, “we are part
of a 42-nation coalition, and our NATO allies and partners can continue to play
an indispensable role in helping Afghanistan strengthen its security forces,
including respect for human rights.”
In a conversation yesterday with Ghani and
Abdullah, Obama said, he told the Afghan leaders that their efforts to deliver
progress and justice for the Afghan people will continue to have strong U.S.
support. They also discussed American support of an Afghan-led reconciliation
process, he added.
Said sanctuaries for the Taliban and other
terrorists must end, the president said.
“Next week, I'll host Prime Minister
[Nawaz] Sharif of Pakistan,” Obama added, “and I will continue to urge all
parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do
their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.”
This afternoon at the Pentagon, Carter said
Afghan forces have proven themselves capable and resilient fighters who can
provide security for their nation.
“They have performed admirably this
fighting season, the first for which the responsibility to fight the Taliban
has fallen squarely on their shoulders,” the defense secretary said. “But
Taliban advances in parts of the country underscore the reality that this is
and remains a difficult fight.”
Afghanistan still needs help, he continued,
and through NATO’s Resolute Support mission, the Defense Department is working
closely with the Afghan national defense and security forces and the country’s security
ministries to ensure they’re prepared to protect the Afghan people and set
conditions for stability in the region.
“This extends beyond our U.S. military
presence and includes the important financial commitments we will need to make
in support of the Afghan security forces,” Carter said.
The U.S. military’s presence and financial
sustainment will send a strong message to the international community that the
United States is committed to Afghanistan and is intent on fostering long-term
stability, he added.
“We anticipate that the U.S. commitment
will in turn garner the commitment of other members of the coalition that U.S.
forces have operated with,” Carter said. “I have already initiated
consultations with key allies to secure their continued support for this
Over time, he added, “we will reduce our
footprint in Afghanistan, but not our commitment to the country and its people.”
In a statement from Kabul, Army Gen. John
F. Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Obama’s decision “provides
us the ability to further develop a lasting strategic relationship with our
Afghan partners, and allows us to counter the rise of violent extremism in a
volatile part of the world.”
He added, “Our continued efforts to
stabilize Afghanistan will benefit the entire region and in turn offer greater
security for the U.S. homeland and Americans abroad and at home.”
Before Obama left the podium, he spoke
directly to the Afghan people, to the men and women in uniform and to the
To U.S. service members, the president said
he doesn’t send them into harm’s way lightly.
“It's the most solemn decision that I
make,” Obama said. “I know the wages of war in the wounded warriors I visit in
the hospital and in the grief of Gold Star families. But as your commander in chief,
I believe this mission is vital to our national security interests in
preventing terrorist attacks against our citizens and our nation.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)