President Obama announced last week that 9,800 United States military troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 to help train and advise Afghan security forces, as well as assist in counter-terrorism operations. The number of troops will then continue to be scaled back to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by 2016.
“Over the last several years, we’ve worked to transition security responsibilities to the Afghans,” said Obama in his announcement of the plan. “One year ago, Afghan forces assumed the lead for combat operations. Since then, they’ve continued to grow in size and in strength, while making huge sacrifices for their country.”
In June 2013, the US and NATO transferred security and combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). According to the White House, there are no plans to decrease the size of the Afghan security forces, now at 352,000. Since the transition, the ANSF has taken the lead in fighting insurgents and has successfully recaptured territory the country lost to the Taliban in previous years. The United Nations Security Council has also commended the ANSF for successfully providing effective security for the historic April 2014 Afghan elections, which saw lower levels of violence than the 2009 elections.
During his remarks, President Obama made clear that the drawdown of US troops would not impact the United States’ commitment to Afghan re-development. “Now, even as our troops come home, the international community will continue to support Afghans as they build their country for years to come,” said Obama. “But our relationship will not be defined by war, it will be shaped by our financial and development assistance as well as our diplomatic support.”
Presidents Obama and Karzai signed a ten-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in May 2012 which included “U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan’s social and economic development, security, institutions, and regional cooperation.” Afghanistan committed “to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversights, and to protect human rights of all Afghans – men and women.” The SPA is still in effect.
The US has also made a substantial five-year commitment to Afghan women and girls through the USAID project Promote, the agency’s largest gender program in the world. Geared toward women between the ages of 18 and 30 who have at least a secondary education, Promote is expected to increase women’s economic, social, and political participation through education, job training, micro-finance and credit for female entrepreneurs, training for policy-making, and strengthening of women’s rights groups and coalitions. USAID will contribute up to $216 million to the project; other donors can contribute up to $200 million in additional funding, for a total of $416 million over the five-year period. The recently announced troop drawdown does not change these commitments.
The President, however, did state that the decision to maintain troops in Afghanistan is contingent upon the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Current President Hamid Karzai will not sign the BSA, but the front-runners to be the next president have both said they will. Former Finance Minister and World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are the two top presidential candidates. Because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the April 2014 election, a runoff will be held June 14 to determine the next president.
Media Resources: The White House 5/27/14; Feminist Newswire 11/22/13, 11/27/13, 4/28/14; United Nations 4/5/14; Tolo News 11/19/13; USAID /Fact Sheet: Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote) (2014-2019)