(This post was last updated at 3:00 p.m. ET.)
President Obama announced on Tuesday a plan to leave a residual force of 9,800 service members in Afghanistan beyond 2014. By 2016, most troops will be out of the country.
“It’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on… wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama said that combat will end in America’s longest-running war by the end of this year. He said after that, the American mission will be focused on “two narrow missions:” Training Afghan Forces and supporting operations against the remnants of al-Qaida.
All of this, Obama said, will only be possible if the Afghan government signs a Bilateral Security Agreement.
That agreement has been elusive for the United States, because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reneged several times. Just this February, Obama had asked the Pentagon to draw up plans to have all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
During a speech at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan over the weekend, Obama said he was hopeful a new president in Afghanistan would lead to a signed security agreement.
“With that bilateral security agreement, assuming it is signed, we can plan for a limited military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014,” Obama told the troops. “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.”
That number of residual forces — 9,800 — is more in line with what military officials had asked for. Back in January, Vice President Joe Biden was advocating for a smaller force in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 troops. The Wall Street Journal reported that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supported military recommendations of a residual force of more than 9,000.
The senior administration officials says the residual force of 9,800 will be in place at the beginning of 2015, “assuming a BSA is signed.”
By the end of 2015, that number would be reduced by half, consolidating “U.S. troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield.” By the end of 2016, the only service members left in Afghanistan will serve as a security assistance force for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.