With a third of the troops now in Afghanistan scheduled to be home in 15 months, the obvious question is how fast will the rest be withdrawn and, in fact, whether all the rest will be withdrawn. In a background briefing by senior administration officials earlier today, much was made of a "bilateral partnership" being developed that will extend U.S. involvement beyond 2014. It was not stated whether or not this will include military involvement. However, the concept of a residual counter-terrorism force of 15,000-25,000 based in Kabul and in Kandahar has been hinted at. A counter-terrorism approach is one long backed by Vice President Joe Biden.
As Rachel Maddow pointed out on Lawrence O'Donnell tonight, the speech left many unanswered questions. Here are some reactions:
"Tonight, President Obama made it clear: we are now beginning the process of bringing our troops home and ending the war in Afghanistan.
“It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out – and we will continue to press for a better outcome. Concluding this war will enable us to reduce the deficit and focus fuller attention on the priorities of the American people: creating jobs and investing in our nation’s future by building a strong, thriving economy for our children.
The drawdown of American forces that the President announced tonight is insufficient. The President is right that we need to shift our strategy in Afghanistan. But a counter-terrorism strategy doesn’t need 70,000 boots on the ground, any more than it needed 100,000 boots on the ground. What the president needs to tell us is how – and when – he’s going to bring all the troops home. The American people – and, increasingly, the Congress – believe that instead of nation-building in Afghanistan, we need to do some more nation-building right here at home.
Sen. Barbara Boxer:
I am glad this war is ending, but it’s ending at far too slow a pace. We need a swifter turnover of responsibility to the nearly 300,000 Afghan forces we have trained, which would allow our brave military men and women to come home sooner.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:
I want to thank President Obama for speaking directly to the American people tonight about the ongoing war in Afghanistan. However, I believe that we must step back and review our Afghanistan policy in the context of our overall national security. Shifting brigades alone is not the answer.
Ending the surge in 2012 with a disappointing 10,000 combat troops coming home this year is not good enough. As I have advocated for months, it is time to shift course in Afghanistan to a counter-terrorism mission, with an aggressive drawdown of combat troops. In the decade since the start of this war, al Qaeda has metastasized, expanding and strengthening its influence across the globe. We have seen that counter-terrorism works best in countering al Qaeda.
For 10 years, we have engaged in a war that has demanded tremendous sacrifice on the part of our troops. It has cost too many American lives and has cost taxpayers more than $440 billion. Reports indicate that the President will announce small, incremental troop draw down over the next two years while our strategy and objectives for the mission remain unclear. I will continue to urge the President for a quicker, more significant draw down of troops in Afghanistan. We cannot continue this open-ended war.
“I am pleased the President recognizes that success in Afghanistan is paramount. Continuing to degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan and the surrounding region must take priority over any calendar dates. It’s important that we retain the flexibility necessary to reconsider troop levels and respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant. It is my hope that the President will continue to listen to our commanders on the ground as we move forward. Congress will hold the Administration accountable for ensuring that the pace and scope of the drawdown does not undermine the progress we’ve made thus far.
We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America’s brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead.
I think it's an unnecessary risk number one and I do believe it's unfortunate that it's well-known that the recommendations of outgoing Secretary Defense Gates and General [David] Petraeus and other military leaders were three to five thousand withdrawal and then a large withdrawal after the next fighting season in the spring and summer of 2012.
Update: More politicians' reactions can be found here.