WASHINGTON-The United States is done surging in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama delivered a brief address to the nation Wednesday night announcing that 10,000 troops will return home from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and another 23,000 by the end of next summer, a drawdown of the 30,000-troop surge he ordered to fight there in 2009.
"I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July," the president said. "Tonight I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment."
The Obama administration said Afghan forces would be in total control of the country by 2014.
The announcement follows rising American opposition to the nearly decade-long war, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden. The president's top military advisers apparently wanted a slower exit from Afghanistan to solidify any successes from the surge, especially since troops will now be drawing down in the summer, the time of year when fighting is at its peak.
While congressional Republicans have urged the president to avoid a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, they are showering criticism on Obama for U.S. involvement in Libya. The House introduced two resolutions Wednesday seeking to halt military involvement there, arguing that the president cannot unilaterally continue actions in Libya without approval from Congress. Obama in his speech Wednesday night mentioned Libya, noting that "we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies."
Despite a recent uptick in violence in Afghanistan (see "Brutal beheading," by Mindy Belz, June 22, 2011), the president struck a victorious tone. He hailed the death of bin Laden: "We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al-Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11...Al-Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put al-Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done."
Obama added that Afghans would have to politically reconcile with members of the Taliban for a peaceful future, provided the Taliban eschewed violence and adhered to the Afghan Constitution. He said the United States would build a "partnership . . . that endures" with the Afghan government. The positive tone masked serious rifts that have plagued the relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments, illustrated recently in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's statement that U.S. troops are "occupiers." Perhaps more importantly in the fight against terrorism, the United States' relationship with Pakistan is at a nadir.
The president wasn't completely rah-rah in his remarks, noting that 1,500 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan. "Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the field of battle, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home," he said. "Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm's way. . . . These long wars will come to a responsible end."
Then Obama turned the speech toward the home front, assuming more of his candidate persona, saying, "America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home."