President Obama lays out America’s new strategy in Afghanistan. Here are the key takeaways from his speech:
1. The Combat mission is over
” Last December — more than 13 years after our nation was attacked by al Qaeda on 9/11 — America’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to a responsible end. That milestone was achieved thanks to the courage and the skill of our military, our intelligence, and civilian personnel.”…
Today, American forces no longer patrol Afghan villages or valleys. Our troops are not engaged in major ground combat against the Taliban. Those missions now belong to Afghans, who are fully responsible for securing their country.”
2. America remains committed, with training and counterterrorism missions.
“But as I’ve said before, while America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures. As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again. Our forces therefore remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions — training Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda. Of course, compared to the 100,000 troops we once had in Afghanistan, today fewer than 10,000 remain, in support of these very focused missions.”
3. Afghan forces have steped up. But still much room for improvement
“Since taking the lead for security earlier this year, Afghan forces have continued to step up. This has been the first fighting season where Afghans have largely been on their own. And they are fighting for their country bravely and tenaciously. (…)At the same time, Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. They’re developing critical capabilities — intelligence, logistics, aviation, command and control.”
4. Taliban resurgence was predictable and was always factored in as part of the transition.
“And meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul. Much of this was predictable. We understood that as we transitioned, that the Taliban would try to exploit some of our movements out of particular areas, and that it would take time for Afghan security forces to strengthen. Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan, and we’ve seen the emergence of an ISIL presence.”
5. More troops to stay in Afghanistan for longer than originally planned, this includes:
-Extension of training and counter-terrorism missions:
“First, I’ve decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016. Their mission will not change. Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier — training Afghan forces and going after al Qaeda. But maintaining our current posture through most of next year, rather than a more rapid drawdown, will allow us to sustain our efforts to train and assist Afghan forces as they grow stronger — not only during this fighting season, but into the next one.”
– 5500 troops to remain in key areas of Afghanistan into 2016.
“Second, I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases, including at Bagram, Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south.”
– Bring in NATO allies
“Third, we will work with allies and partners to align the steps I am announcing today with their own presence in Afghanistan after 2016. In Afghanistan, we are part of a 42-nation coalition, and our NATO allies and partners can continue to play an indispensable role in helping Afghanistan strengthen its security forces, including respect for human rights.”
– Support for the Afghan Government
“And finally, because governance and development remain the foundation for stability and progress in Afghanistan, we will continue to support President Ghani and the national unity government as they pursue critical reforms. New provincial governors have been appointed, and President Ghani is working to combat corruption, strengthen institutions, and uphold rule of law. As I told President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah yesterday, efforts that deliver progress and justice for the Afghan people will continue to have the strong support of the United States. And we cannot separate the importance of governance with the issues of security. The more effective these reforms happen, the better off the security situation is going to be.”
6. Managing expectations
“My fellow Americans, after so many years of war, Afghanistan will not be a perfect place. It’s a poor country that will have to work hard on its development. There will continue to be contested areas. But Afghans like these are standing up for their country. If they were to fail, it would endanger the security of us all. And we’ve made an enormous investment in a stable Afghanistan. Afghans are making difficult but genuine progress. This modest but meaningful extension of our presence — while sticking to our current, narrow missions — can make a real difference. It’s the right thing to do.”