US President Barack Obama announced that as US troops are removed from Afghanistan, he hopes to establish a global partnership network to fight terrorism. (MARK WILSON /AFP)
WASHINGTON — During his commencement address to the West Point Military Academy’s Class of 2014 on Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama announced a $5 billion Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund to help create “a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel” in order to “more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.
The announcement, which had been billed as a major foreign policy address, outlined the focus of the administration’s efforts for the remainder of Obama’s term. All US forces will be out of Afghanistan by the start of 2017, meaning that he will have withdrawn all troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan during his presidency.
The policy the president outlined is one that relies less on direct action by the US military and more on enabling partners around the world to provide their own security against a range of threats.
The swift drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan from 32,000 to 9,800 by the end of this year — with a complete withdrawal in two years — will give the United States the manpower and equipment to shift focus to the counterterrorism fight outside of Afghanistan, he said. The move “reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaida leadership. Instead, it comes from decentralized al-Qaida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate.”
There are currently about 4,500 American special operations forces in Afghanistan, but no word has been given as to how many will stay past 2014, and how big a percentage of the 9,800 US troops they will comprise.
A key part of the initiative will focus on training forces from the countries where extremists have been able to take advantage of internal turmoil and weak central governments in order to build up their own capacities.
The fund “will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al-Qaida; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali,” the president said.
While the military will take a central training role, the State Department will also have to increase its operational tempo to vet these forces to ensure that US laws, which do not allow for partnership activities with units guilty of human rights abuses, are followed.
“We must broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development;” the president explained, along with “sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and — if just, necessary and effective — multilateral military action. We must do so because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained and less likely to lead to costly mistakes.”