In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama told the American public that the Afghanistan War, the longest in U.S. history, would end by the end of 2014. Proclaiming that Afghan forces are “now in the lead for their own security,” Obama’s next move is to finalize a security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai which calls for a “small force” of Americans and NATO allies to remain in the war-stricken country, with said forces having moved to a “support role.”
The President did not get into specifics during the State of the Union address on just how many Americans would remain forward deployed in Afghanistan or for how long, but an NBC report on the draft of the bilateral security agreement in November of 2013 said that Afghan officials are hoping for around 10-15 thousand U.S. troops to remain in country, while United States officials suggested the number to be closer to seven or eight thousand.
In addition to the thousands of troops, maintaining particular American bases, and limited counter-terrorism operations, the U.S. will continue to equip and fund Afghan security forces, with funding costs for Afghan forces equating to around $5.1 billion for the fiscal year 2014. According to the text of the draft, the agreement would formally begin on January 1st, 2015 and would last until 2024 or potentially even longer. The agreement could also be ended by written notice two years in advance.
Obama has mentioned his intentions to end the war in Afghanistan multiple times since his re-election; last night’s State of the Union was no exception. The past year of discussions between the two countries about the transition of security from U.S. to Afghan forces had many Americans hopeful that the longest war in the nation’s history might finally be tapering to an end in 2014. But with President Karzai’s recent decision to withhold his signature on the deal until changes are made, some U.S. officials are doubting whether the U.S. will be militarily involved at all in Afghanistan in the future.
America’s plans to retain troops in the region are contingent upon Afghan President Karzai’s signing of the bilateral security agreement. While debate about the conditions of the bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan has been progressing steadily for the majority of 2013, as of late Karzai has repeatedly stressed that he will not sign the agreement unless certain criteria regarding raids on Afghan homes, Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainees, and peace talks with the Taliban are met. In addition, Karzai has also expressed his desire to refrain from signing the deal until after Afghanistan’s coming elections, which are scheduled for April, 2014.
The U.S. has been urging Afghanistan to pass the agreement for weeks since the new year, even going so far as threatening to withdraw all troops if Karzai doesn’t sign. White House spokesperson Jay Carney responded by stating their position that if the agreement is not finalized soon, America will start planning for a future without considering military aid to or troop presence in Afghanistan.
Karzai has stood by his decision to hold back his signature on the deal despite the U.S. threats, saying, “If they want to leave, they should leave today. We will continue our living.”
Despite the uncertainty regarding the deal, Obama’s State of the Union address seemed very clear; After 13 years of fighting, 2014 will be the end of the Afghan war. Whether the US will remain in Afghanistan at all in the future is still in question.
By Alex Ewings