America's longest war just got a little longer. President Barack Obama will announce that he would like to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to continue fighting past the planned 2014 end of the war – and those troops would all leave by the end of 2016, according to a senior administration official.
The official said the president will make the announcement in the Rose Garden on Wednesday afternoon. "He will announce that our combat mission will be over by the end of 2014. He will make clear that we are open to continued efforts in Afghanistan on two narrow missions after 2014: training Afghan Forces and supporting [counterterrorism] operations against the remnants of al Qaeda," a senior administration official said. "We will only sustain a military presence after 2014 if the Afghan government signs the Bilateral Security Agreement."
Both of the leading candidates to succeed Afghan President Hamid Karzai have said they would sign the agreement that would govern American forces serving in Afghanistan past this year. A runoff is planned, and could take weeks or months to complete. "Assuming a BSA is signed, at the beginning of 2015, we will have 9,800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we would reduce that presence by roughly half, consolidating U.S. troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. And one year later, by the end of 2016, we will draw down to a normal Embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul, as we have done in Iraq," the senior official said.
Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan over Memorial Day weekend but did not meet with Karzai. Obama told the troops at Bagram Air Base that they had been successful in their mission during the past 13 years of war in Afghanistan.
"With that bilateral security agreement, assuming it is signed, we can plan for a limited military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Because after all the sacrifices we've made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win. And we're going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever, be used again to launch an attack against our country," Obama said.
There are currently about 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, mostly advising and assisting the Afghan security forces. The post-2014 force of 9,800 U.S. troops would be in addition to a smaller number of NATO troops