Afghanistan’s new president came calling Tuesday on the White House and left with a huge present — 9,800 American troops will stay to protect his country through at least the end of this year.
President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. force will not be cut in half by the end of 2015 as originally planned, though they will remain in a training and counter-terrorism role.
This must be the limit of any backsliding from Obama’s pullout plan. He needs to stand firm and complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2016.
After 14 years and 2,200 American lives lost in Afghanistan, the U.S. confronts a far more urgent threat from the Islamic State. That is becoming clearer with every bloody horror.
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The merciless jihadist group claimed responsibility for the March 18 attack on a museum in Tunisia that killed more than 20 foreign tourists and Tunisians. An offshoot in Yemen said it was behind suicide bombings March 20 of two Shiite mosques that killed more than 130 worshipers. And over the weekend, a group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division claimed to have breached U.S. military servers; posted what it said were the names, photos and addresses of 100 service members; and urged its “brothers residing in America” to kill them.
To meet this growing danger, the United States cannot afford to stay mired in Afghanistan, however sympathetic President Ashraf Ghani might be. So far, he is proving to be a vast improvement over the corrupt and ungrateful Hamid Karzai. In his first official visit to Washington, D.C., Ghani did all the right things, praising U.S. troops for their bravery, visiting Arlington National Cemetery and thanking the American people for their support.
“At the end of the day, it is the ordinary Americans whose hard-earned taxes have over the years built the partnership that has led to our conversation today," Ghani said Wednesday to a joint session of Congress.
Obama said he would ask lawmakers for enough funding to keep Afghanistan’s security forces at 352,000 strong until at least 2017. The U.S. already has invested $60 billion in the Afghan military. Ghani must take responsibility for protecting his people — which he promised, saying, “We’re not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe.”
When Obama announced the pullout plan last May, he said that the U.S. military had succeeded in crippling al-Qaida after 9/11 and that it was time to bring America’s longest war to a “responsible end.”
“We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one,” Obama said.
That reasoning hasn’t changed. With the rise of the Islamic State, it has grown stronger.