President Barack Obama had a message for the American people during his State of the Union speech: the war in Afghanistan will be over at the end of the year. He also had a message for Afghan President Hamid Karzai: Sign the U.S. troop deal or we’re out of there.
After months of warning Karzai that a deal needed to be signed by the end of last year, Obama seems content with putting the ball in Afghanistan’s court. During his fifth State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, the president made it clear that if Karzai signed the deal, which lays out the conditions for American troops to stay past the 2014 withdrawal, a “small force” could stay to carry out training and counter-terrorism operations.
“After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future,” Obama said. “If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.”
Obama did not set any deadline for the bilateral security agreement to be signed, nor did he urge Karzai to sign it – a signal that the U.S. may be willing to wait it out. Despite the wishes of military leaders who would like time to plan for a post-war presence, it’s not absolutely necessary. Negotiations for a post-war deal for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq went down to the wire.
Karzai has been playing politics with the deal since agreeing to it last fall. Presidential elections to replace him are set for April 5, and Obama may just prefer to deal with a new leader. Whatever happens in Afghanistan after the end of the year, one thing is clear: Obama will be the president who brought two of America’s longest wars to a close.
“When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over,” he said.