That announcement drew a cheer from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “President Obama’s announcement today regarding his policy winding down the war in Afghanistan was a step forward,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “I urge the President to use this momentum to speed up and increase the drawdown of U.S. combat troops.”
Obama said Friday that any follow-on forces staying after 2014 will have two missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and targeted counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida and its affiliates.
Negotiations on the security agreement to formalize that presence are ongoing, the president said, and “will focus on how best to achieve these two tasks.”
“It’s our hope that we can reach an agreement this year,” Obama added.
The White House is reportedly mulling options of keeping 3,000; 6,000; or 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, far smaller figures than the up to 20,000 forces the U.S. military originally envisioned. A White House official said this week that the option of removing all troops would also be discussed.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have argued that a larger force is needed to shore up the Afghan army and combat al-Qaida. The vast majority of congressional Democrats, however, would prefer as small a military footprint as possible, or no force at all.
“I stand ready to work with the President and the Department of Defense on solutions to continuing U.S. security in South East Asia that does not involve the presence of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan,” Gillibrand said in her statement.