Politics

Obama says US finishing the job in Afghanistan

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about troop pullout from Afghanistan at the White House on May 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. The administration's plan is to keep a contingency force of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, consolidating them in Kabul and on Bagram Air Base.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about troop pullout from Afghanistan at the White House on May 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. The administration's plan is to keep a contingency force of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, consolidating them in Kabul and on Bagram Air Base.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Seeking to turn the page on more than a decade of war, President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday for greatly reducing U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of the year and then ending the U.S. military commitment there by the end of 2016.

RELATED: Obama speaks at West Point, seeks to recast postwar foreign policy

"We have now been in Afghanistan longer than many Americans expected," Obama acknowledged during an appearance in the White House Rose Garden. "Now we're finishing the job we've started."

VIDEO: Watch the president's full statement

Even as Obama set a timetable for the drawdown, he said he would keep nearly 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan after the U.S. combat mission formally ends later this year. Those troops would focus on training Afghan security forces and on counterterrorism efforts.

The president said his drawdown plan was contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the accord, but the U.S. is optimistic that the two candidates seeking to replace him in the ongoing Afghan elections will finalize the agreement.

Obama's blueprint calls for cutting the current force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year. Those troops, dispatched throughout Afghanistan, would not be engaged in combat missions.

Over the course of next year, the number of troops would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.

Obama is just back from a surprise weekend trip to Afghanistan where he met with U.S. commanders and American forces serving in the closing months of America's longest war.

RELATED: On Memorial Day eve, President Obama lands in Afghanistan

Top Republicans swiftly criticized the plan that Obama was reportedly set to announce before Obama had announced it publicly.

"President Obama is not ending wars, he's losing them," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent critic of Obama's foreign policy, wrote on Twitter.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., praised Obama's troop levels but questioned his timing and whether the president was replicating actions in Iraq, "where he abandoned the region to chaos."

"Holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn't make a lick of sense strategically," McKeon said.

At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded.

This story has been updated.