CNN’s Jake Tapper reports that Barack Obama will announce a dramatic drawdown of troop strength in Afghanistan in tonight’s State of the Union speech, a signal that he’s accelerating the end game of the US combat mission. Troop strength will be cut in half over the next year, amounting to a withdrawal of 34,000 troops:
Politico has more of the details:
President Barack Obama is expected to announce Tuesday night that he’ll withdraw 34,000 more troops from Afghanistan over the coming year, the latest big move in his plan to transfer responsibility for the war to Afghanistan’s homegrown soldiers and police.
Obama will outline that goal in his State of the Union address, according to an official with knowledge of the speech. The number represents about half the troops serving in Afghanistan today, and it continues the administration’s push toward handing the Afghan National Security Forces primary responsibility for maintaining security and pursuing insurgents, even though the ANSF’s abilities lag far behind its U.S. and international patrons.
That number may change, and there is still debate over what the American presence will be at the end of the curve:
Pentagon and White House officials are said to be debating post-2014 troop levels among themselves, but have not yet made a final recommendation to Obama for the size or composition of a lingering American force. Reports have sized that potential footprint as high as 20,000 troops, and White House officials have not ruled out leaving behind none — especially if the Afghan government cannot agree to grant U.S. forces legal immunity under a future status of forces agreement.
The White House has been trying to get the Taliban to the negotiating table for quite a while, and that will be necessary — if the US is to have any influence on a general peace accord between the largely-Pashtun Taliban and the rest of the Afghan tribes in the country. Amplifying the withdrawal rate may not be the best way to convince the Taliban that we’re going to have any leverage over them in the long run, especially while we’re talking about leaving a full withdrawal on the table. Of course, if we aren’t serious about making the Taliban negotiate a genuine peace accord to end what has long been a civil war between the Pashtuns and everyone else, then we probably shouldn’t stick around at all.