May 27 - U.S. President Barack Obama announces that the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan will draw down to below 5,000 by the close of 2015, saying it's time to ''turn the page'' on more than a decade in which so much of U.S. foreign policy was focused on war. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday (May 27) that U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan will draw down to below 5,000 by the close of 2015, as the longest war in American history winds down. Obama made the unscheduled announcement from the White House Rose Garden, saying the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan "will not be defined by war" but will be shaped by financial and development assistance as well as diplomatic support. "By the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul with a security assistance component just as we have done in Iraq," Obama said, briefing reporters on the sequence of the gradual drawdown. Since Afghanistan's general election on April 5, White House, State Department and Pentagon officials have resumed discussions on how many American troops should remain after the current U.S.-led coalition ends its mission this year. Ten-thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan is the minimum number demanded by the U.S. military to train Afghan forces. The decision to consider a small force of less than 5,000 U.S. troops reflects a belief among White House officials that Afghan security forces have evolved into a robust enough force to contain a still-potent Taliban-led insurgency, Obama administration officials briefed on the matter told Reuters in April. That belief, said the officials, is based partly on Afghanistan's surprisingly smooth election, which has won international praise for its high turnout, estimated at 60 percent of 12 million eligible votes, and the failure of Taliban militants to stage high-profile attacks that day. "The bottom line is," said Obama during his announcement, "it's time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." "This is how wars end in the 21st century," Obama said. "Not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who take the lead and ultimately full responsibility." There are now about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in 2011, when troop numbers peaked a decade into a conflict originally intended to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Obama said he will travel to West Point on Wednesday (May 28) to tell America's newest class of military officers how Afghanistan fits into the broader U.S. strategy.