U.S President Barack Obama began the steady retreat from Afghanistan Wednesday, saying in a televised speech the United States has largely achieved its goals and the withdrawal of troops will now begin.
In remarks prepared for delivery at 8 p.m. from the East Room of the White House, Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 surge would leave by next summer.
When I announced the surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al-Qaeda; reverse the Taliban's momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July, Obama said. Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.
By 2014, the president said the process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. And all 100,000 U.S. troops will be home.
Pointing to victories - al-Qaeda under increased pressures, more than half of al-Qaeda leadership taken out, including the death of its leader, Osama bin Laden - the president said the message was clear:
The message is we don't forget. You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes, Obama said.
He went on, saying that the country that served as a launching pad for the Sept. 11 2001 attacks no longer represents a terrorist threat to the United States, and while huge challenges remain, This is the beginning - but not the end - of our effort to wind down this war.
While the timetable for withdrawal is more aggressive than the recommendations made by his top military commanders, Obama is choosing to accelerate the rate of withdrawal amid vocal Congressional pressure to end the conflict, which has lasted longer than any military engagement in U.S. history.
A contingent in Congress, and in his own administration, including Vice President Joe Biden, has been calling for a drastic curtailing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. And several Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, have issued a similar call.
Others, including outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and prominent Senate Republicans like John McCain (R-AZ), have warned that drawing down troops too hastily risks compromising gains in security and in diminishing the Taliban's reach.
Obama's decision is also seen by many as a victory for Biden, who has long argued for the curtailing of military engagement in the region, and as a setback for Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, who helped write the Army's field manual on counterinsurgency policy, and who did not endorse the president's decision. (Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary Hillary Clinton accepted it with reservations.)
Petraeus had recommended limiting withdrawals to 5,000 troops this year and another 5,000 over the winter, deferring the withdrawal of the rest of the surge force through next year's fighting season, the New York Times reported.
He, along with other military commanders, contend that the 18 months since Obama announced the troop increase has not been enough time for the Americans to strengthen the vulnerable gains they have made in Helmand and other provinces.
But still, the President has to answer to a war-weary United States nation filled with economic worry about the price tag of war, which already adds to $120 billion this year alone.
Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war at a time of rising debt and hard economic times, Obama said Wednesday night. Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource: our people.