President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. military intends to withdraw 5,500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, leaving 8,400 troops in country to provide local security and tailored support. He pointed to the continued threat the Taliban poses to American national security and the well-being of women and girls in the region as the driving factor behind his decision to maintain a U.S. presence in the country.
“Today’s decision best positions my successor to make future decisions about our presence in Afghanistan,” said the President, highlighting the importance of the upcoming election to the future stability of the region.
The President also mentioned the outstanding gains women and girls have made since the U.S. intervention began in 2001. Today over 3 million Afghan girls are enrolled in grades 1-6, and over 20 percent of college students are women. In May of 2016, Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, opened the first all-women’s university in Afghanistan, allowing young women from more conservative families to access higher education.
In addition, the maternal mortality rate has been dramatically reduced from 1340 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 1990, down to 396 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 2015. In addition, the number of health facilities capable of providing adequate reproductive care has nearly doubled, and the mortality rate for children under five has decreased by 62%. All of these developments have raised the life expectancy of Afghan women from 44 years in 2001 to 62 years today.
“Despite progress, the plight of Afghan women and girls is still in peril,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of Feminist Majority Foundation, which runs the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls. Smeal continued, “We’re encouraged that President Obama’s announcement today emphasizes that the partnership amongst the United States, Afghanistan and 41 other allies endures. His statement reflects how far Afghan women and girls have advanced in the past 14 years. If they were to be forgotten, not only would Afghan women and girls lose their best chance for freedom and their futures, but the world will lose its best chance for restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
The President’s decision to withdraw 14% of the troops comes amidst continuous threats from the Taliban, which in recent years has gained control of territory in the south. Afghans escaping violence and uncertainty accounted for the second largest refugee population fleeing to Europe in 2015.
Speaking on the President’s announcement, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Hamdullah Mohib, said, “We see this decision as further reinforcement of the strong partnership between America and Afghanistan and believe it will have a positive impact on the battlefield, as well as lay the groundwork for a renewed peace effort, which is the national interest of both our countries.”