President Barack Obama has gone back on his promise to end the war in Afghanistan on his watch, ensuring he hands the conflict off to his successor. Obama is now saying he’s going to keep 5,500 U.S. troops in the country when he leaves office in 2017, according to senior administration officials, casting aside years of promises otherwise.
This could mean extended hardship and deployments for our troops, many of whom could have already prepared for a homecoming.
The president was to announce the changes Thursday morning from the White House. Officials said he would outline plans to maintain the current force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, then draw down to 5,500 troops in 2017.
The officials previewed the decisions on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly ahead of the president.
The troops staying in Afghanistan beyond next year will continue to focus on counterterrorism missions and training and advising Afghan security forces, the officials said. They will be based in Kabul and Bagram Air Field, as well as bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar.
The president’s decision to keep the U.S. military in Afghanistan beyond his tenure thrusts the conflict into the 2016 presidential race. The next president will become the third U.S. commander in chief to oversee the war, with the options of trying to bring it to a close, maintaining the presence as Obama left it or even ramping up U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Until now, Afghanistan has barely factored into campaign discussions on foreign policy and was not mentioned in Tuesday’s Democratic debate. The war was discussed only in the two Republican debates.
Upending the troop withdrawal decision, however, carries broad political implications.
Obama campaigned for the White House on a pledge to end America’s involvement in the two wars he inherited, Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, he’ll likely finish his presidency with troops back in both countries.
The president did withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011, a moment he heralded as a promise kept to a war-weary nation. But the rise of the Islamic State drew the U.S. military back into Iraq last year to train and assist local security forces and launch airstrikes, a campaign Obama has said will likely last beyond his tenure.
The Associated Press contributed to this article