President Barack Obama plans to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, leaving only an embassy and a small group to train and aid the Afghan army, according to a briefing from a senior administration official.
Obama plans to withdraw U.S. forces — including drones and commando units —- even though al-Qaida has not split its religious alliance with the Taliban Islamic army. The Taliban is the main enemy of the divided country’s central government.
The withdrawal announcement comes two days after Obama flew into the country on a brief visit to U.S. troops, and amid complex tribal negotiations over power-sharing.
Those negotiations are intended to hammer out a good-enough deal among various regional kingmakers, tribal alliances and ethnic groups, such as the Tadzhiks and the Pashtun tribes on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is not clear if the Taliban will use military power to seize control of the country while U.S. troops and airpower are being withdrawn.
It is not clear if any deal will preclude al-Qaida from using Afghanistan’s territory after 2016 to train jihadis for strikes against the U.S. — as it did in the months before its 9/11 strike on New York City and Washington in 2001.
U.S. forces are slated to drop from roughly 30,000 troops now, to just under 10,000, by the start of 2016.
The combination of a U.S. withdrawal and a Taliban offensive in 2015 or 2016 might repeat the history when the Soviets withdrew in 1988 and 1989. Their withdrawal loosed a major civil war, and the collapse of the central government and the Taliban’s rise to power.