More than 14 years ago, after al Qaida attacked our nation on 9/11, the United States went to war in Afghanistan to combat these terrorists and the Taliban that harbored them.
Over the years, thanks to the heroic efforts of our military, intelligence officials, diplomats and development professionals, we pushed al Qaida out of its camps, helped the Afghan people topple the Taliban and establish a democratic government, dealt crippling blows to the al Qaida leadership, delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, and trained Afghan forces to take responsibility for their own security.
Given that progress, America’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to a responsible end in December of 2014.
Compared to the 100,000 troops we once had there, today, fewer than 10,000 remain. And compared to their previous mission — helping to lead the fight — our forces are now focused on two narrow missions: training and advising Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorist operations against the remnants of al Qaida as well as other terrorists, including ISIL. Even as we remain relentless against those who threaten us, we are no longer engaged in a major ground war in Afghanistan.
Still, even these narrow missions continue to be dangerous. Over the past year and a half, 38 Americans — military and civilian — have given their lives in Afghanistan for our security. We honor their sacrifice. We stand with their families in their grief and their pride. And we resolve to carry on the mission for which they gave their last full measure of devotion.
Today, our mission in Afghanistan is not ours alone. For the second year now, Afghan forces are fully responsible for their own security. Every day, nearly 320,000 Afghan soldiers and police are serving and fighting — and many are giving their lives — to defend their country. Meanwhile, in another milestone, we recently removed the leader of the Taliban, Akhtar Mohammad Mansur.
Nevertheless, the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be. The Taliban remains a threat. And as President and Commander-in-Chief, I’ve made it clear that I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.
That is why today, based on the recommendation of our military leaders, my national security team, and in consultation with Congress, the Afghan government and international partners, I announced an adjustment to our posture.
Instead of drawing down to 5,500 troops by the end of this year, the United States will maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into next year, through the end of my administration. The narrow missions assigned to our forces will not change — they’ll remain focused on supporting Afghan forces and going after terrorists. However, maintaining our forces at this specific level will allow us to continue providing tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve. And we will continue supporting critical counterterrorism operations.
I know that when we first sent our forces into Afghanistan 14 years ago, few Americans imagined we’d be there — in any capacity — this long. As President, I’ve focused our strategy on training and building up Afghan forces. And because we have, we were able to end our major ground war there and bring home 90 percent of our troops.
Yet even as we work for peace, we must deal with the realities of the world as it is. And we must never forget what’s at stake in Afghanistan. This is where al Qaida is trying to regroup and where ISIL is trying to expand its presence. And make no mistake, if these terrorists succeed in regaining areas and camps where they can train and plot, they will attempt more attacks against us. I will not allow that to happen.
This September, we’ll mark 15 years since the attacks of 9/11. Once more, we’ll pause to remember the nearly 3,000 lives we lost. We’ll salute our men and women in uniform — our 9/11 Generation — who have served in Afghanistan and beyond. We’ll honor the memory of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, including more than 2,200 American patriots who have given their lives in Afghanistan.
As we do, let’s never forget the progress their service has made possible. Whether it’s millions more Afghan children in school, or dramatic improvements to public health, or the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history, Afghanistan is a better place than it once was. That’s progress we’ve helped make possible — progress we can help sustain, in partnership with the Afghan people and our coalition partners. And that’s why I firmly believe that the decision I’m announcing today is the right thing to do — for Afghanistan, for the United States and for the world.