4:17pm

Tue May 27, 2014
Afghanistan

Obama Sets A Number For U.S. Troop Levels In Afghanistan

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 7:58 pm

President Obama intends to keep a force of 9,800 American troops after the end of 2014. The troops will remain in the country in order to train Afghan forces and support counterterrorism operations. By the end of 2016, all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Today, President Obama announced plans to cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to just under 10,000 by the end of the year. There are about 32,000 troops there now. President Obama made the announcement today at the White House. He spoke about what the troops would and would not do.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: American personnel will be an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.

BLOCK: And the president said all U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016. The U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan still depends on that country's next president signing on to a security deal. NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, joins me now to talk about today's announcement. And Tom, the president's number today - 9,800 troops by the end of the year. Is that a number that the U.S. military says is enough for the mission?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well Melissa, the U.S. military officials have pushed for that number, really holding out for that number, saying it's the lowest acceptable number for what they've been asked to do. So, that's training Afghan forces mostly on logistics, you know, getting spare parts, fuel and food to troops in the field. The other mission is counter-terrorism going after the remnants of Al Qaeda. Now, some of the White House wanted a smaller force - I am told around 5,000 - and their rationale was that the higher number of 10,000 made it seem like the war really isn't coming to an end. And politically, they wanted the war over by the time the president leaves office.

BLOCK: And the president did say, as we mentioned that, in two years the troop level in Afghanistan will go to zero.

BOWMAN: That's right. At the end of this year, we're talking 9,800 U.S. troops. End of 2015, cut that number in half. And then they'd be based at two big installations - Kabul and Bagram air base. At the end of 2016, which is the end of the president's term, it'd basically be zero. And you'd have a small number of military personnel working out of the embassy - just like any embassy around the world.

BLOCK: Now we just heard the president talk about the U.S. troops serving in an advisory role. What exactly does that mean?

BOWMAN: Well no one's defined what advisory means - it's a little vague. As the president said, U.S. troops won't be patrolling cities and towns, hills and valleys. So in the training mission you could see how that would not involve patrolling. It's all about getting their systems to work against spare parts, fuel and so forth. And that's bureaucratic. And U.S. forces could do that from Afghan bases.

The counter-terror mission is a little more complicated. You're basically hunting down people - killing or capturing them. So will U.S. troops go along on some of those targeted missions? Or just advise from their bases and let the Afghan special forces carry out the mission? And that's not clear at this point.

Now the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joe Dunford, told reporters in March that for any counter-terror operations today the Afghan forces are the majority but that Americans also take part. And then he added, quote, I would expect that to continue to be the case after 2015.

BLOCK: And Tom, this is all contingent on a security deal that would have to be signed between the U.S. and Afghanistan. That's been a huge sticking point.

BOWMAN: That's right. President Karzai was expected to sign this months ago. He never did. But the two presidential candidates in a runoff election in June have both said they would sign this agreement with the United States.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.