President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced his intention to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.
“America will always keep its unwavering commitment to denying Al Qaeda the safe haven it had before 9/11,” Obbama said, speaking in the White House Rose Garden.
President Barack Obama speaks about Afghanistan, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. The president will seek to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally ends later this year and then will withdraw most of those forces by the end of 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The 9,800 troops will remain for counterterrorism, security and training, as the Afghan government still faces challenges in establishing an enduring democratic government when U.S. combat operations conclude at the end of the year.
“This year, we bring America's longest war to a responsible end,” Obama stated, asserting this was not a war of America's choosing, but a response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Obama said that the Afghan military will be responsible for defending itself, but the U.S. and NATO allies will continue in an advisory role.
“Our allies have been with us every step of the way in Afghanistan and I expect they will be with us going forward,” Obama said.
A senior White House official told reporters Tuesday that the troop number will likely be reduced by half at the end of 2015, depending on conditions in the country.
A continued troop presence in Afghanistan is contingent on a Bilateral Security Agreement, needed to provide legal protection to U.S. military members. Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai hasn't signed the agreement, though both candidates vying to replace him have pledged to do so.
“The two final candidates in the runoff have indicated they will sign it promptly after taking office, so I hope this is something we can get done,” Obama said in the Rose Garden.
The pledge from the candidates gave Obama the confidence to make the pledge, a senior White House official said.
Asked in a press call if there is not an agreement, the White House official said, “If there's not a Bilateral Security Agreement signed, we would not keep security forces in the country after 2014."
The news comes just days after the president told troops on a surprise trip to Afghanistan that he would bring America's longest war to a "responsible end," pledging to bring most of them home by the end of the year.
“For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan,” Obama said Sunday at an airplane hanger in Afghanistan. “America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”
At the time, Obama promised a decision soon on keeping a small contingent of troops to help secure the gains made over a decade of combat.
Obama will deliver a foreign policy address at the military academy in West Point Wednesday.
This post has been updated.
Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.