The senior Democratic members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, Senator Mark Udall and Representative Diana DeGette, applauded President Obama for announcing Wednesday night that he would be withdrawing roughly 30,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by November of next year, a commitment he had made when he ordered the same number of troops into battle as part of the “surge” last year. The two lawmakers expressed frustration, however, that the president had not been more bold in seeking to draw down U.S. commitments in the country.
In a no-nonsense fast-paced 15 minute speech, the president said the military had achieved the aims of the surge. The troops in Afghanistan had refocused attention on weakening al-Qaeda and reversed the momentum of the resurgent Taliban. Obama said Americans were more than ready for the government to start focusing its nation-building efforts at home. He said the goal in Afghanistan is not to erect a Western-style democracy but only to make certain that there are no safe havens in the country from which al Qaeda could ever again launch attacks on the United States. He said he would withdraw 5,000 U.S. troops by July and another 5,000 by the end of the year.
“I listened intently to the speech,” Udall, a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, told reporters. “The situation in Afghanistan is difficult but our situation here is dire, too… I wish [Obama] had been more aggressive… We could withdraw 15,000 troops [this year] without jeopardizing the gains we have made. Coloradans’ patience with this war is wearing thin. My patience with this war is wearing thin.”
In a release, DeGette asked the president to provide a more detailed plan on how he will effectively turn over control to Afghan security forces in order to bring home all of the U.S. soldiers on the ground.
“[I] urge him to provide his long-term strategy for total withdrawal as soon as possible. U.S. forces’ elimination of Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leadership – and the subsequent weakening of their organization in Afghanistan – underscore how our mission in that country has shifted and how the time has come to bring our troops home.”
Udall told the Colorado Independent that he thought the troops who would be coming home over the next two years would be combat troops. That would match the president’s stated strategy, he said, where the U.S. would seek increasingly to play a supporting role in maintaining order in the country and pressing the Taliban to abandon violence in its efforts to regain political power.
“I would say the support troops would stay,” Udall said. “The 30,000-plus surge troops, many were combat troops, and those are the ones coming home. The strategy is to… turn our presence into a support role. So the road home lies along that path.”
National security and military analysts are sure to watch which troops begin coming home as a way to find out if reality is matching rhetoric on the Obama Administration’s Afghan plan.
There are presently about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, joined in what is now close to a decade-long war dubbed “Operation Enduring Freedom” by the Bush Administration.
The tide of the conflict has ebbed and flowed in a way that has reflected the shifting sense of mission there– a sense of inconsistency that has raised deep anxiety in no small part due to the long history of bogged-down and ultimately foiled military missions that characterize the region.
President Bush seemed content a few years into the operation only to topple the Taliban government of the country for having aided and abetted al-Qaeda in its terrorist war against the United States. Troop levels never rose beyond 35,000 under Bush’s command and many top al-Qaeda leaders, most notably Osama bin Laden, escaped into the Afghan mountains and the Pakistan borderlands.
Obama campaigned for the presidency on a plan that would rescue the U.S. from the far depths of overseas engagement in the War on Terror by refocusing on what he painted as obtainable and justified goals in Afghanistan. The Iraq war or “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said, was a misguided deadly distraction. He drew down U.S. troops there by more than 100,000, although there remain 40,000 Americans on the ground. He tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan.
Obama’s war in Afghanistan has cost taxpayers $113 billion this year and is on track to cost $107 billion next year.
There have been roughly 1,630 U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan and 11,191 U.S. soldiers wounded. Twenty-three Coloradans have died and 196 have been injured.
Estimates put Afghan civilian deaths between just 2007 and 2010 at 10,000.
Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The Nobel committee said it chose the president for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Obama said at the time that he saw the award less as a recognition of his accomplishments and more as “a call to action.”