In an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today announced the delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 U.S. troops from the country during the transition to Operation Resolute Support.
Speaking during a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, Hagel discussed the reason for the delayed withdrawal of some troops and the transition from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission to Operation Resolute Support.
Delayed Withdrawal of Some Troops
“Last month, thanks to the leadership of President Ghani and [Chief Executive Officer] Dr. [Abdullah] Abdullah, the Afghan Parliament overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement,” Hagel said. “However, because of prior delays in signing these agreements, the force generation effort for Resolute Support is several months behind where we hoped it would be at this time.”
As a result of the delay, Hagel said, President Barack Obama provided U.S. military commanders with the flexibility to manage any temporary force shortfalls they might experience for a few months as coalition troops to arrive in theater.
“This will mean a delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 U.S. troops,” the defense secretary said, “so that up to 10,800 troops rather than 9,800 could remain in Afghanistan through the end of this year and through the first few months next year.”
The president’s authorization will not change, Hagel added, noting the troops’ missions and the long-term timeline for our withdrawal also wouldn’t change.
“As planned, Resolute Support will focus here in Kabul and Bagram with a limited regional presence,” he said. “As part of this mission, the United States is prepared to provide limited combat enabler support to Afghan forces.”
Hagel said U.S. forces in Afghanistan would “always” have the right and the capacity to defend themselves against attacks.
“We’re committed to preventing al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a safe haven,” Hagel said, to threaten the United States, the Afghan people, and other U.S. allies and partners.
Also, the United States will take appropriate measures against Taliban members who directly threaten U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to al Qaeda, he added.
Progress in Afghanistan
Hagel said he has observed progress in Afghanistan during his time as defense secretary and earlier when he served in the U.S. Senate.
“I have seen, first-hand, over many years of visits to this country the enormous progress that this country has made in its development, in its democracy, in its possibilities and hope for all its people,” Hagel said. “And that, I think, is further testimony to the strong partnership of our two countries.”
Hagel said he and Afghanistan’s leaders discussed the nation’s progress and “the transition to new chapter in America’s partnership with Afghanistan.”
The defense secretary noted the importance of last summer’s elections in Afghanistan, because Afghan security forces were “in the lead in defending their citizens and their country.”
There’s more to do and more challenges ahead, he said.
“But at the end of this month, ISAF’s combat mission will come to an end, as everyone knows,” Hagel said.
NATO coalition forces will transition to Operation Resolute Support, Hagel said, when they’ll train, advise and assist Afghan forces as they assume full responsibility for their nation’s security.
The coalition’s new mission will be critical to Afghanistan’s success, the defense secretary said.
“This afternoon, President Ghani, Dr. Abdullah and I also discussed the important commitments made by coalition nations at this week’s conferences in Brussels and London,” Hagel said. “Between 2012 and 2015, the United States will have provided more than $8 billon in civilian assistance [to Afghanistan] and our commitment will be enduring.”
Havel said recent Taliban attacks have made it clear that the international community must not waver in its support for a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan. The defense secretary also expressed his appreciation for troop sacrifices in Afghanistan.
“I want to recognize the tremendous service and sacrifices of not only our U.S. troops, but coalition troops and our partners in the Afghan National Security Forces,” Hagel said. “Their commitment has forged a defining moment of opportunity for Afghanistan’s future and for the people of Afghanistan.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)