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President Barack Obama announced Tuesday night in his State of the Union address that 34,000 troops will leave Afghanistan by this time next year, cutting the total from just over half the current level of 66,000 troops.
“This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” Obama said.
The president has long planned to implement a drawdown in the wake of his decision to surge the U.S. presence in his first term, but this was the first indication of how quickly those reductions will occur.
Even after the drawdown, there will still be some 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, and it’s still not clear how many, if any, will remain in the country after the end of 2014, when all U.S. combat forces are scheduled to be gone and Afghans are expected to take responsibility for their own security.
“Further reductions will continue through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security,” a senior administration official said, who noted that Afghans are now leading 90 percent of missions in their country. The president has not made any decisions on troop levels beyond what he announced Tuesday, and the United States remains in talks with the Afghan government about a follow-on force that would target al-Qaida and continue to train Afghan security forces after the war will be, in the official’s words, brought responsibly “to a close.”
Obama consulted with the Afghan government and other coalition leaders and called to inform them of his decision, the official said.
Obama has previously called for reinvesting half of the savings from winding down the wars in rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, but that has repeatedly been rejected by Republicans eager to cut government spending.