Betraying repeatedly stated vows to bring all U.S. troops home before he leaves office, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that as many as 5,500 soldiers will remain in the country until at least 2017.
Citing unnamed officials, the Associated Press was the first to break the news and noted the announcement will ensure Obama—despite numerous promises to the contrary—"hands the conflict off to his successor."
At a press conference at the White House, Obama said it would be a mistake to bring all the troops home and announced a slow-down in the pace of withdrawal and confirmed that a substantial force would remain beyond the end of his term.
"Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be," Obama explained to reporters, while flanked by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and and Defense Secretary Ash Carter. "Meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains particularly in rural areas and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul."
The news comes less than two weeks after the U.S. bombed a hospital in the northern city of Kunduz—killing 22 people, including patients and medical staff. Though Doctors Without Borders/MSF, the international group which ran the hospital, has submitted a formal request for an international and independent probe of the attack, the U.S. government has to consent.
For those who have paid close attention to the failed adventures of the U.S. military in Afghanistan since 2001, Thursday's news did not come as a surprise.
As Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and a longtime critic of Obama's foreign policy, acknowledged in an early-morning tweet responding to the expected announcement : "Obama to announce the Afghan War isn't over after all (which has been clear since he declared it "over" months ago)."
And as independent journalist Ali Gharib observed in the Guardian following Obama's press conference:
In the early years of the Iraq War, as security deteriorated amid a burgeoning civil war, President George W Bush responded to critics by pledging, again and again, to “stay the course”. The mantra remained the cornerstone of his administration’s strategy in Iraq, even though Bush dropped the phrase when the war became unpopular. His stubborn inability to adjust to circumstances rather than “stay the course” became the source of scorching criticisms of the war’s conduct and a lasting legacy of the Bush administration.
Obama’s policy was never to stay the course, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. The war that he promised to end but couldn’t now represents Obama’s failure to stay his course – of ending the “good war”. Bush’s first war will now be a pockmark on another president’s legacy, and last into yet a third leader’s term.