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What Obama Didn't Say About Afghanistan in His State of the Union Speech

President Barack Obama’s remarks on Afghanistan last night during his State of the Union address garnered headlines that read, “Obama Promises to End of War in Afghanistan,” as ABC News put it. But much like other Obama foreign policy pronouncements, there’s more than meets the eye on his plan for Afghanistan.

“Tonight, I can announce that, over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue,” Obama said. “And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over. Beyond 2014, America's commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We're negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of Al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

“Counterterrorism efforts” can mean a lot of different things, and Obama did not flesh out the details of what he meant. If he did, it would have undermined his claim that “our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

A day before Obama’s State of the Union, the Washington Post gave a much more detailed picture of what the Pentagon is pushing for beyond the year 2014:

The Pentagon is pushing a plan that would keep about 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan once the NATO military mission there ends in 2014 but significantly shrink the contingent over the following two years, according to senior U.S. government officials and military officers...

The proposals under consideration call for reducing the U.S. presence by early 2016 to between 3,500 and 6,000 troops. One option under serious discussion envisages further reducing troop levels to under 1,000 by early 2017, with most of the personnel operating from the giant U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

While those details signal that there will be a significant paring down of the military occupation of the country, it’s nowhere near close to an “end to the war.” It appears that the Obama administration plans to keep a U.S. troop presence, coupled with a large embassy in Kabul, in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. The details of how many troops are being haggled over with the Pentagon, but news reports make it clear that there will still be some U.S. troops in Afghanistan for a while after 2014.

And considering that the American public is firmly in favor of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it makes sense that Obama would fudge the details in his speech. But it’s not the job of media outlets like ABC News to help him along in that. 

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