In national address, Obama pledges to 'finish the job' in Afghanistan
President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden. While in Afghanistan, Obama pledged to "finish the job" and end the war in Afghanistan.
For many, President Barack Obama's surprise visit on Tuesday signaled a turning point in America's war in Afghanistan.
At the presidential palace in Kabul, Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. After months of intense negotiations, the agreement is expected to serve as a road map for both countries as American forces withdraw. The president agreed to uphold a commitment to Afghanistan, including a 10 year pledge of financial support to the Afghani military following U.S. withdrawal.
In a rare move, President Obama addressed the U.S. public live from Bagram Airfield, marking the first time a sitting president has made such an address from a war zone.
“I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security,” Obama said. “But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly.”
The president went on to restate his commitment to social and political stability in Afghanistan.
"We're building an enduring partnership. The agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people. As you stand up, you will not stand alone," Obama said. "It established the basis for our cooperation over the next decade, including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions. It supports Afghan efforts to advance development and dignity for their people."
Michael Semple, fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School of Government, said the president's speech does not signal the end of the war.
"It marks the process of moving to another stage of the conflict, not the end of the conflict. This marks the move away from having a large U.S. army on the ground in Afghanistan to a situation where there will be fewer U.S. troops there, but probably fighting will still go on."
In his speech, the president assured listeners his plan is to transfer security responsibilities from Americans. to Afghani foces.
"We'll work with the Afghans to determine what support they need to accomplish two narrow security missions beyond 2014. Counter-terrorism, and continued training," Obama said. "But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people."
According to Semple, the speech had several intended audiences.
"The speech was definitely directed at the U.S. population, trying to reassure them that the end is in sight," Semple said. "But the trip the president undertook was also directed at Afghans — both those who are with the government and those who are fighting against them — to try to reassure them that although most of the U.S. Army is going to be leaving in the next couple of years, there is going to be some kind of enduring U.S. commitment."
Mirdad Nejrab, the chairman of the Afghan Parliament's Internal Security Committee was optimistic about the effects of the president's visit.
“His trip shows that the United States will stay in the region and will not repeat the mistake that the Americans made after the communist regime was toppled in Afghanistan,” Nejrab said. “It is a good answer to our neighbors and regional countries, which thought that the Americans were leaving the region.”
The U.S. war in Afghanistan has been America's longest-running war. But beyond the death of Osama bin Laden one year ago, the war has seen few major milestones.
"We were all told that this campaign was about al-Qaeda and the fight back against them, so of course there was a slightly naive hope that once bin Laden was off the scene, things would wind down," Semple said. "However, like so many conflicts, the conflict in Afghanistan is a very complex one with lots of different actors."
During his speech, President Obama outlined America's goals in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 troop withdrawal.
"Our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban," Obama said. "Our goal is to destroy al-Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that. Afghans want to assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear timeline to wind down the war."
Despite the president's insistance on a military withdrawal timeline, Semple thinks a stable Afghanistan is still a long ways away.
"I don't think any of us have any illusions. It's not the most likely outcome," Semple said. "The president referred to a chance for reconciliation, but the U.S. has got their own pressing concerns. What they're banking on is a security solution and they're trying to throw in some reconciliation efforts alongside it."
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