Full Text: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

Remarks by the President on the Way Forward in Afghanistan

East Room

8:01 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Nearly 10 years ago, America suffered the worst attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor.  This mass murder was planned by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, and signaled a new threat to our security –- one in which the targets were no longer soldiers on a battlefield, but innocent men, women and children going about their daily lives.

In the days that followed, our nation was united as we struck at al Qaeda and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Then, our focus shifted.  A second war was launched in Iraq, and we spent enormous blood and treasure to support a new government there.  By the time I took office, the war in Afghanistan had entered its seventh year.  But al Qaeda’s leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.  Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.

For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan.  When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives:  to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country.  I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.

Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment.  Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals.  As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.  After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  Our mission will change from combat to support.  By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength.  Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.  Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al Qaeda’s leadership.  And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al Qaeda had ever known.  This was a victory for all who have served since 9/11.  One soldier summed it up well.  “The message,” he said, “is we don’t forget.  You will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes.”

The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain.  Bin Laden expressed concern that al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -– thereby draining more widespread support.  Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks.  But we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.

In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds.  Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country.  Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people.  In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Of course, huge challenges remain.  This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.  We’ll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we’ve made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.  And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.

We do know that peace cannot come to a land that has known so much war without a political settlement.  So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.  Our position on these talks is clear:  They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution.  But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply:  No safe haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland or our allies.  We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.  We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.  What we can do, and will do, is build a partnership with the Afghan people that endures –- one that ensures that we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government.

Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.  No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region.  We’ll work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitments.  For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us.  They cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.

My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country.  We’ve learned anew the profound cost of war — a cost that’s been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan -– men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended.  Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the battlefield, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.  And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end.

As they do, we must learn their lessons.  Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.  Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.  When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded.  We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.  That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world.  We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

In this effort, we draw inspiration from our fellow Americans who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.  To our troops, our veterans and their families, I speak for all Americans when I say that we will keep our sacred trust with you, and provide you with the care and benefits and opportunity that you deserve.

I met some of these patriotic Americans at Fort Campbell.  A while back, I spoke to the 101st Airborne that has fought to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and to the team that took out Osama bin Laden.  Standing in front of a model of bin Laden’s compound, the Navy SEAL who led that effort paid tribute to those who had been lost –- brothers and sisters in arms whose names are now written on bases where our troops stand guard overseas, and on headstones in quiet corners of our country where their memory will never be forgotten.  This officer — like so many others I’ve met on bases, in Baghdad and Bagram, and at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital -– spoke with humility about how his unit worked together as one, depending on each other, and trusting one another, as a family might do in a time of peril.

That’s a lesson worth remembering -– that we are all a part of one American family.  Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish.  Now, let us finish the work at hand.  Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story.  With confidence in our cause, with faith in our fellow citizens, and with hope in our hearts, let us go about the work of extending the promise of America -– for this generation, and the next.

May God bless our troops.  And may God bless the United States of America.

END           8:16 P.M. EDT

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Political Buzz June 22, 2011: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan Military Withdrawal

December 1, 2009: President Obama’s Address Unveils New Afghanistan War Strategy

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

President Obama told the American people that 30,000 additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan by the first part of 2010, “the fastest pace possible.”
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times President Obama said that 30,000 additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan by the first part of 2010, “the fastest pace possible.”

IN FOCUS: STATS

  • FACT CHECK: Obama overlooks some tough realities: President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday night did not always match the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. The president raised expectations that may be hard to meet when he told Americans his troop increase in Afghanistan will accelerate the training of that country’s own forces and be accompanied by more help from allies. A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts… – AP, 12-1-09

THE HEADLINES….

  • Qualified Support From G.O.P.; Skepticism From Democrats: Congressional Republicans offered qualified support Tuesday for President Obama’s proposed troop increase in Afghanistan but several senior Democrats took sharp exception to the president’s plan, illustrating the deep divide in the party over the conflict…. – NYT, 12-2-09
  • Obama Adds Troops, but Maps Exit Plan: President Obama announced Tuesday that he would speed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in coming months, but he vowed to start bringing American forces home in the middle of 2011. He said that the United States could not afford an open-ended commitment and that it was time for Afghans to take more responsibility for their country…. – NYT, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Afghanistan speech: five key points In President Obama’s Afghanistan speech, he announced Tuesday night that he will send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But he’s already decided to start bringing them back by mid-2011: President Obama’s Afghanistan speech announced a new, historic chapter for the mission there, announcing the deployment of 30,000 additional troops in the “epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda” but also promising to begin withdrawing those forces within 18 months. The surge of forces will bring the total American commitment to nearly 100,000. It will be composed of several combat brigades, new trainers and support troops and will be deployed at “the fastest pace possible” to be on the ground and fighting by summer, an onerous task for a military deploying forces to a landlocked country with a crude infrastructure. The much-anticipated formal announcement of a policy in Afghanistan punctuates three months of soul-searching within the administration and, regardless of the outcome, represents an historical turning point for Afghanistan and the Obama administration…. – CS Monitor, 12-2-09
  • Analyzing Obama’s Afghan Speech: President Obama outlined his reasons for increasing troops in Afghanistan, but promised the war would not go on without end…. – NYT, 12-1-09
  • Obama orders 30,000-troop boost in Afghanistan: Declaring “our security is at stake,” President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night, nearly tripling the force he inherited but promising an impatient public to begin withdrawal in 18 months. The buildup will begin almost immediately — the first Marines will be in place by Christmas — and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone. In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president told the nation his new policy was designed to “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” though he made no mention of defeating Taliban insurgents or capturing al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden…. – AP, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Afghan War Compromise Doesn’t Quell Strategy Debate By offering something to all sides in the debate, Obama may have left all sides unsatisfied: President Obama, after vowing last week to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, presented the nation Tuesday with a new war strategy that seemed to contain something for everyone: a troop increase, a preliminary timetable for withdrawal, tough words for the Afghan government and an emphasis on the U.S. partnership with Pakistan.
    But by offering something to all sides in the debate, Obama may have left all sides unsatisfied — from the liberal groups who have protested any troop increase to the conservatives who object to a fixed timetable for withdrawal that, they say, could signal to enemies simply to lie low and wait.
    The reaction to the plan in the hours after Obama’s prime-time speech was swift and wide-ranging, setting the tone for a potentially contentious foreign policy debate that could define the rest of Obama’s presidency. Fox News, 12-2-09
  • With Troops Go Demands: In ordering the accelerated deployment of 30,000 fresh American troops to the country, President Obama made clear that he would demand a far greater effort from President Hamid Karzai to staunch corruption in his government and from Afghan soldiers and police officers to fight Taliban insurgents. The extra American soldiers, the president said, would only be on the ground for a limited time to ensure the Afghans followed through. But that is the heart of the problem: in laying down the gauntlet for the Afghans, President Obama is setting criteria for success that he and his field commanders may be able to influence, but which ultimately they will not be able to control…. – NYT, 12-2-09
  • Obama Outlines Plan for Afghanistan Troop Surge: After a months-long review of the U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama laid out a new course Tuesday night, saying it is in “our vital national interest” to deploy 30,000 more troops to the fight…. – PBS Newshour, 12-1-09
  • Will Obama’s war become his Vietnam?: As President Obama announced he’s sending more troops to Afghanistan, he also took on critics who made comparisons between the current situation and the war in Vietnam…. – CNN, 12-1-09
  • Obama ally breaks with him on Afghanistan: Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky was one of President Obama’s earliest and most ardent supporters. She served in the Illinois state legislature with him, and she supported his run for the U.S. Senate. But on the issue of Afghanistan, the president can’t bank on the support of his longtime political ally. “He’s made up his mind that at this point there ought to be a troop increase, and I have to say I’m very skeptical about that as a solution,” she said… – CNN, 12-1-09
  • Afghanistan Drawdown to Begin in 2011, Officials Say: President Obama will announce on Tuesday night that he will begin to draw American forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011, even after sending some 30,000 more United States troops there to reverse the momentum of Taliban insurgents, the White House said.
    “The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers,” the president plans to tell the nation, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House. “They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight,” Mr. Obama plans to tell a national television audience from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. “And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”… – NY”T, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan to Envision Exit: President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday. Although the speech was still in draft form, the officials said the president wanted to use the address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday night not only to announce the immediate order to deploy roughly 30,000 more troops, but also to convey how he intends to turn the fight over to the Kabul government.
    “It’s accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. “He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”… – NYT, 11-30-09

POLITICAL QUOTES

The President at West Point

  • Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Eisenhower Hall Theatre, United States Military Academy at West Point, West Point, New York 8:01 P.M. EST WH, 12-1-09
  • Obama’s Address on the War in Afghanistan: Following is the text of President Obama’s address on a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, as released by the White House on Tuesday…
    Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our Armed Services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan — the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion. It’s an extraordinary honor for me to do so here at West Point — where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finest about our country….
    To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.
    We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.
    The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 — the fastest possible pace — so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
    Because this is an international effort, I’ve asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility — what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.
    But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We’ll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government — and, more importantly, to the Afghan people — that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.
    Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security. This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas — such as agriculture — that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
    The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They’ve been confronted with occupation — by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand — America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect — to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.
    Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.
    We’re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That’s why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border….
    It’s easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. (Applause.) I believe with every fiber of my being that we — as Americans — can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment — they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people…. – NYT, 12-1-09

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Spelling out his plans for Afghanistan, President Obama on Tuesday said he could “bring this war to a successful conclusion.” More Photos >

  • President’s Afghan drawdown plan called risky, ‘unrealistic’: Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor and former Army officer, said the balancing act could leave Obama facing “really unpalatable” choices in 2011 and beyond.
    “If you’re in my camp, you’re hard-pressed to see how everything is going to go smoothly in Afghanistan,” said Bacevich, who has called the Afghan war unnecessary and impossible to win.
    Obama could be forced to choose between sticking to his plans and leaving the American mission unfinished or extending the U.S. role in an unpopular war.
    “It’s hard to conceive that public support will have risen,” he said. “On the other hand, a president facing re-election who pulls the plug on a failing war is going to find himself charged with being an ineffective commander-in-chief.” – CNN, 12-1-09
  • Julian Zelizer “President Obama set to hike troops in Afghanistan, risking political fallout and recalling Vietnam”: “Is Obama in danger of becoming an unpopular wartime president?”: “What we’ve seen with other presidents is the more you get bogged down by war, the more that becomes how Americans and fellow politicians define your presidency,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He cited former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Bush as examples. Obama must quickly establish civil stability and get U.S. troops out within the year — a difficult task, Zelizer said.
    “Does the president’s challenge in Afghanistan mirror Johnson’s troubles in Vietnam?”: Johnson, like Obama, faced divisions in the White House and Congress on whether to escalate the war, and both wars are incredibly messy with no clear-cut enemy, Zelizer said. Obama, however, has Vietnam to learn from. “The memories and the fears of Vietnam, they’re shaping the debate over Afghanistan,” Zelizer said…. – AM NY, 12-1-09
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