U.S. Plans To Leave Residual Force Of Nearly 10,000 In Afghanistan

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President Obama announced on Tuesday a plan to leave a residual force of 9,800 service members in Afghanistan beyond 2014. By 2016, most troops will be out of the country.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene. Today, President Obama outlined his vision for the nation's foreign policy in a commencement address at West Point. He set the table for that speech with remarks at the White House yesterday, speaking about a country that has been central to U.S. foreign-policy - Afghanistan. The President sketched out his plan to draw down U.S. troops there after more than a decade of war. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: By the end of this year, President Obama says troop levels in Afghanistan will drop below 10,000, less than a third of what they are right now.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

KEITH: In 2015, President Obama says U.S. military personnel will have two narrow missions - training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations.


OBAMA: We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.

KEITH: And, yes, he admits Afghanistan is not going to be a perfect place. But by the time the next president takes the oath of office, Obama wants the American footprint in Afghanistan to be light - an Embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul. Anthony Cordesman is at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: This is, to put it mildly, an exercise not so much in optimism but one in exiting.

KEITH: Cordesman says the president should have based the drawdown on conditions on the ground, rather than hard dates.

CORDESMAN: Which if you're the Taliban or an enemy just tells you, all you've got to do is wait and the U.S. is going to be gone.

KEITH: Some Republican senators echoed those concerns, but President Obama says this is the way wars end today.


OBAMA: Americans have learned that it's harder to end wars than it is to begin them. Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century - not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who are trained to take the lead and ultimately full responsibility.

KEITH: This roadmap is contingent on one other thing - the president says the Afghan government has to sign a bilateral security agreement. Both of the leading candidates for president in Afghanistan say they will. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

GREENE: And we should mention, later today, my colleague Steve Inskeep will be interviewing the President. That interview will air on tomorrow's program and we'll have coverage of that interview throughout the day on NPR News.

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