President Obama’s Wednesday announcement to begin systematically withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan was welcomed by American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster. However, he said, the withdrawal must be conducted “in a measured and reasoned manner.”
“Our military families have sacrificed on the nation’s behalf for nearly 10 years,” Foster said. “Lives have been irreparably changed. It is time now for our warriors and their families to begin the recovery process.”
Obama told Americans in an address to the nation that the United States can begin force reduction “from a position of strength,” having met or exceeded expectations to neutralize the Taliban and topple al-Qaida. He noted that over half of al-Qaida’s top leadership, including 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, are now dead. U.S. forces have also trained more than 100,000 Afghan troops to protect the country from a return to terrorist control.
Since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, more than 1,600 U.S. military personnel have been killed fighting in Afghanistan and another 11,000 have been wounded. Post-traumatic stress among those who have served in the theater is estimated at over 250,000.
Such sacrifices, Foster explained, is the reason the United States must be smart about the withdrawal. “Troop reductions should be driven by accomplishments of the mission and not external pressures, such as the federal budget,” he said. “We owe it to those who served in the war to be certain their sacrifices have not been in vain and that Afghanistan is fully prepared to assume command over its own security and freedom.”
President Obama said 10,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and 30,000 will be out of harm’s way by the summer of 2012. From that point forward, he said, “Our troops will come home at a steady pace.” He said U.S. Armed Forces will be out of Afghanistan by 2014. “We have put al-Qaida on a path to defeat,” Obama said. “We will not relent until the job is done.”
Foster said it is important for President Obama to listen closely to his senior advisers, particularly military leaders in the field, to set the correct pace of force reduction. He said it is vital not only to Afghanistan’s success, but to global security for all peace-loving nations, that Afghan Security Forces are able to demonstrate their ability to ward off al-Qaida and control the Taliban.
Foster agreed with President Obama that those who have served in OEF – and the overall global war on terrorism so far – have succeeded in their efforts to control terrorism and put Afghanistan and Iraq alike on a course toward freedom and democracy. Obama added that “no safe haven” for terrorists will be tolerated by the United States in time to come and that Pakistan will continue to be a focus of his attention to stabilize the region.
“Tonight, we take comfort in knowing the tide of war is receding,” he said. “For now, the wartime veterans of The American Legion are proud to say well done and welcome home,” Foster said.
President Obama said that the return of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan presents an opportunity to enlist those who have defended America abroad in the effort to rebuild America at home by giving the troops, veterans and their families the care, benefits and opportunities they deserve.
“Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people,” he said. “It is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”