Barack Obama declared in his Wednesday address to the nation than the USA has largely achieved its aims in Afghanistan and announced a large-scale withdrawal of American troops. President Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011.
The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” of forces would leave by the autumn of 2012, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. “My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country,” Obama said in his adress. “Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.”
“Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way,” the president added. “We have ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.”
“We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength,” the president said. “Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known. This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11. One soldier summed it up well. ‘The message,’ he said, ‘is we don’t forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.'”
Before the address Obama met with his national security team, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Director of National Intelligence James Klapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and Petraeus.
On Wednesday, Obama informed the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the NATO about his decision. He has also had a series of consultations with leaders in Congress over the past few weeks to seek their input on the war.
Obama didn’t mention in his speech the name of Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and almost certainly the next CIA director. And there’s some disagreement based on whether Petraeus has signed off on the troop withdrawal timetable.
A senior administration official, said to reporters by phone before Obama’s speech: “General Petraeus presented the president with a range of options for pursuing this drawdown. The president’s decision was fully within the range of options that were presented to him.”
But The New York Times reported: “Two administration officials said General Petraeus did not endorse the decision.”
Without naming any specific politician, Obama mentioned some isolationist strain and a kind of perpetual interventionist strain which was evident in the Republican Party, especially during the latest debate.
“We must chart a more centered course,” the president said. “Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force — but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny.”
In his speech Obama mentioned several times that he believes in interweaving of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan,” he said. “No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am president, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.”