President Obama has announced yet another slowdown in plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Speaking before a trip to a NATO summit in Poland, the president said 8,400 troops will remain in Afghanistan at the end of this year rather than the 5,500 originally planned, citing a “precarious” security situation and still-vulnerable Afghan security forces as reasons for the shift.
The announcement comes about a month after the completion of an Army evaluation of conditions in Afghanistan whose conclusions were kept secret. It also comes a month after the publication of an open letter in the National Interest, signed by former Afghanistan ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad and military commanders David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, advocating a slower drawdown. That call was echoed on Monday by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, Lindsey Graham, R–South Carolina, and Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska.
The effort to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan has been fitful and convoluted. Here’s a look back at the major withdrawal announcements and moves the Obama administration has made in the past five years.
June 2011: Obama says that responsibility for security in Afghanistan will be handed over to the Afghans in 2014.
September 2012: Obama boasts on the campaign trail that he has “put forward a specific plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014,” adding that “when I say I’m going to bring them home, you know they’re going to come home.” Press secretary Jay Carney subsequently asserts that the president did not mean to suggest by this comment that “all the troops would be out” by the end of 2014.
May 2014: Obama announces that “combat operations” will cease and the Afghanistan troop count will be reduced to 9,800 by the end of the year. (The troops that remain will ostensibly only engage in counterterrorism and training.) He also says all American troops will be withdrawn, with the exception of a small Iraq-like security presence, by the end of 2016.
November 2014: Obama issues an order continuing combat operations through 2015.
December 2014: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel scraps the plan to reduce troop levels to 9,800 in the near term but announces an eventual drawdown to 5,500 troops.
October 2015: Obama reiterates plans for a drawdown to 5,500 troops.
Today: Obama scraps the plan to reduce troop levels to 5,500 and says there will be 8,400 troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office.