President Obama, outlining his vision for ending the war in Afghanistan, vowed Wednesday to withdraw all surge troops by next summer and declared that after a decade of fighting “the tide of war is receding.”
In a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, the president assured the nation that the U.S. military will begin its drawdown next month from a “position of strength” following the death of Usama bin Laden. He described that drawdown as “the beginning, but not the end, of our effort to wind down this war” — a transition he wants complete by 2014.
“We have put Al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done,” the president said.
As anticipated, the president called for 10,000 troops to be withdrawn by the end of this year. He said the rest of the surge troops, or about 23,000 will be removed by the end of summer in 2012. It is expected that all surge troops will be out of Afghanistan by September next year.
The president, in framing the drawdown, tried to appeal to competing factions on Capitol Hill and elsewhere over the war. To those urging the president to cut the mission short and withdraw forces at a more rapid pace, Obama affirmed that his interest is “nation-building here at home,” not in Afghanistan.
“We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely,” he said.
But to those concerned the impending withdrawal could leave Kabul ill-equipped to keep the Taliban at bay and extremist elements out, Obama vowed not to let Afghanistan again become a “safe haven” for terrorists.
He touted the recent death of bin Laden as a “victory for all who have served since 9/11,” and he claimed intelligence recovered from the terror leader’s Pakistan compound revealed that Al Qaeda is under “enormous strain.” Obama said bin Laden had expressed concern that Al Qaeda could not replace senior leaders who were killed and was struggling “to portray America as a nation at war with Islam.”
Senior administration officials said the president reached his withdrawal decision after reviewing the “substantial progress” made toward three goals: denying Al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan, reversing the Taliban’s momentum so they cannot topple the government and training Afghan security forces.
One official noted that for the past six years or more, the terrorist threat has come from Pakistan and not Afghanistan. “We don’t see a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan,” the official said, claiming the pullout would not affect counterterror operations in Pakistan.