President Barack Obama will announce tonight that 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will return home by this time next year — halving the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, senior administration officials confirm.
Obama will not make any further announcements on troop levels in Afghanistan in tonight’s State of the Union Speech, a senior administration official said. It is unknown how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 — if any.
“Afghan forces are leading nearly 90 percent of operations across the country, and by this spring, they’ll be assuming the lead across the entire country, with the United States and ISAF stepped back to a train, advise and assist role,” the official said in an email. “By the end of 2014, we will responsibly bring our war in Afghanistan to a close.”
The U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating over the size of a residual force to remain in Afghanistan after most NATO troops depart. Similar negotiations with Iraq ended in failure in 2011, when the Iraqi government refused to extend immunity from Iraqi law to U.S. troops.
Between now and the end of 2014, the U.S. Air Force will play a central role in transporting troops and cargo out of Afghanistan.
Because Afghanistan is landlocked and rugged, a majority of equipment will leave the country by air. Ground routes through neighboring Pakistan are dangerous and unreliable, and a system of railways and truck lines known as the Northern Distribution Network stretches thousands of miles from Central Asia through Russia and the Baltic republics — a slow, tenuous and costly course.
“Afghanistan logistics have proven quite complex, posing a Rubik’s cube of challenges, from geography and weather to its security situation and transportation infrastructure,” said Cynthia Bauer, a spokeswoman for U.S. Transportation Command.
Staff writer Kristin Davis contributed to this report.