U.S. to Keep More Troops in Afghanistan Through 2017


U.S. Army

Once upon a time, when a Republican was president, there was a lot of mainstream interest in the status of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency in part by promising to end the war in Iraq and focus on the "good war" in Afghanistan. In 2012 President Obama ran for re-election claiming he had ended the war in Iraq and was ending the war in Afghanistan.

Obama had not ended the Iraq war, and after the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he insisted the decision to end the war for which he took credit in the re-election campaign was not a decision for which he was responsible. Even in 2012 it looked like Obama was not ending the war in Afghanistan.

Since then the U.S. has blown through several timetables set by President Obama on Afghanistan withdrawal. In 2015 Obama announced 6,000 U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan through 2017, leading Nick Gillespie to ask "What Part of Pulling Out Does Obama Not Understand?"

The not-ending of the war in Afghanistan continues today, with President Obama announcing 8,400 troops would remain in Afghanistan through next year. "The narrow missions assigned to our forces will not change," Obama insisted. "They'll remain focused on supporting Afghan forces and going after terrorists."

Obama said the higher troop levels, recommended by his military advisors, would "allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve… [and] continue supporting Afghan forces on the ground and in the air."

The U.S. role in Afghanistan is not limited to training and support. A U.S. air strike in May took out the leader of the Taliban. President Obama said at the time that he hoped the Taliban would "seize the opportunity" and rejoin peace talks with the Afghan government. Instead the Taliban chose a harder hardliner as its new leader. Afghan troops, meanwhile, suffer from low morale and desertion, sometimes withdrawing from entire districts.

Last year, the U.S. hit a Doctors Without Borders facility in Afghanistan, representing the first time one Nobel Peace Prize winner (President Obama, 2009) bombed another Nobel Peace Prize winner (Doctors Without Borders, 1999). The U.S. blamed a series of errors but no one faced anything other than "administrative" charges for the incident, in which 42 people were killed.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called the Afghanistan war a "mistake" but has nevertheless insisted U.S. troops must remain in the country. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has backed postponing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson said he supported the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan during the 2012 election cycle, but the war has not been a major issue in the 2016 campaign so far.

Obama heads to Warsaw this week for a NATO summit at which the alliance's nearly 15-year-long mission in Afghanistan is expected to be discussed. At the meeting NATO is also expected to agree to deploying four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also highlighted that military spending by "European Allies and Canada" was expected to rise by 3 percent, or 8 billion dollars, this year. Much of the increased spending has come from Poland and the Baltic states.