President Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, gestures Feb. 12 while giving the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill. (Charles Dharapak / Getty Images, pool)
President Obama’s State of the Union pledge to reduce by half the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan within a year drew quick complaints from a top House Republican.
“By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” Obama said before Congress in a televised address. “After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”
There are about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan today, and Obama promised the number would be reduced by 34,000 within a year.
While he did not declare victory in the war on terrorism, Obama said dealing with the threat of terrorist and extremist groups does not require large deployments of U.S. forces on new missions.
“Instead, we need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security and, when necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorist who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”
This is not unexpected, as Obama has made clear his plans to withdraw combat forces as quickly as Afghanistan security forces are trained. The pace of the reduction, though, is too fast for some lawmakers.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, is one of those worried the rush to get out of Afghanistan will be a foreign policy disaster because “our hard-fought gains are fragile and reversible.”
McKeon said he is troubled the administration is thinking about a large drop in U.S. troops “during the same year that the Afghan forces will be in the lead across the entire country for the first time” and “without respect to anything that may happen on the ground over the next 12 months.”
“This approach seems to be needlessly fraught with risk,” McKeon said.
Obama said the U.S. commitment to “a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure but the nature of our commitment will change.”
“We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government, one that focuses on two missions,” he said, “training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al-Qaida and their affiliates.”
Al-Qaida is not the only threat facings the U.S., Obama said, mentioning Monday’s nuclear weapons test by North Korea and Iran’s attempt to get nuclear weapons as examples of reason for concern of the spread of dangerous weapons.
Obama also spoke about the unfinished business of reaching a budget and spending agreement.
“Some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts in things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” he said
“We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending,” he said
Culture changes in the military were also mentioned in the speech.
“We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters because women have prone under fire they are ready for combat,” Obama said. “We will ensure equal treatment for all service members and equal benefits for their families. Gay and straight.”
“As long as I am commander-in-chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world,” Obama said.