President Barack Obama took another step towards the exits in Afghanistan today, by releasing a statement saying that he may withdraw all U.S. troops from the country in 2014, despite the Taliban’s continued military strength and its alliance with Al Qaeda.
“Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014,” said a White House statement on Tuesday.
The withdrawal would mark an end to the U.S. intervention, which began U.S. forces destroyed the Taliban government that had been sheltering Al-Qaeda.
During his first year in office, Obama upped U.S. forces in the country, but did not spend any political capital to maintain public support for the anti-jihadi campaign.
Under Obama’s leadership, public support for the campaign has gradually dropped below public opposition.
Obama’s statement suggesting a full withdrawal comes while Afghanistan is already undergoing a major political realignment caused by the reduced U.S. troop presence, and the rising tide of Taliban attacks.
Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his allies are trying to build alliances with various regional tribes and ethnic groups so they can contain or defeat the Taliban offensive that is expected once U.S. firepower drops to a low level this year.
To improve his outreach to anti-U.S. tribes that are sympathetic to the Taliban, Karzai has declined to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. before he leaves office after the presidential election in April.
A similar situation preceded the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2010 and 2011.
Obama asked Vice President Joe Biden to handle negotiations with the Iraq government, which failed when Iraqi officials declined to grant unpopular legal concessions to departing U.S. forces. Obama then cited the failure of those negotiations to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country.
Since then, jihadis have rebuilt their forces in Iraq, while Iran has strengthened its influence in the country, and shipped soldiers and weapons through Iraq to its embattled Syrian ally.
Obama and Karzai spoke Tuesday, and the White House released its version of the conversation in a statement shortly after.
“President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA… Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014,” said the statement.