Obama ponders new Afghan troop mission

2014-05-26 09:27
US President Barack Obama speaks during a surprise visit with US troops at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, in Afghanistan. (Saul Loeb, AFP)

US President Barack Obama speaks during a surprise visit with US troops at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, in Afghanistan. (Saul Loeb, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bagram - As he ponders leaving some troops in Afghanistan after the longest US war, Barack Obama harkens back to the 11 September 2001 attacks to justify more than a decade of sacrifice.

Whether the US president is also using that imagery to justify longer US military involvement in Afghanistan, senior political aides will not say.

But Obama, in a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield outside Kabul on Sunday, did not sound like a man about to wash his hands of Afghanistan.

Aides hint the president will offer some "clarity" on his intentions in a major speech at the West Point military academy on Wednesday meant to put his foreign policy in a wider context.

On Sunday, he twice mentioned that he saw a poster of the Twin Towers in New York in a Bagram trailer complex where he got a briefing from top military and intelligence officials.

Memory of 9/11 lives

Obama mentioned September 11 when talking to young troops, many of whom were mere kids when al-Qaeda sent fuel-laden airliners on suicide missions against targets in New York and Washington in attacks planned in Afghan terror havens.

He said he had just visited the new September 11 museum in the footprint of the World Trade Centre Twin Towers in New York - and there was a sense that he was squaring a circle in his mind on what to do next in Afghanistan.

"Once again, we resolved to never forget what happened on that September day and to do everything in our power to prevent something like that from ever happening again.

"That's why you are here. That's why you are here."

Despite warnings last year that the White House would contemplate leaving no troops in Afghanistan after combat soldiers ship home by the end of the year, Obama said several times during his four hours on the ground on Sunday that he was open to a future role for US troops in a training and anti-terror capacity.

He simultaneously played the role of the commander-in-chief bringing troops home and the statesman who would not leave Afghanistan to its fate.

Washington has been frustrated for months by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) that would offer legal protections to a residual force of US troops.

But US officials believe assurances by his two potential successors, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, that they would sign up.

Obama's comments about September 11 were not the only striking aspects of his rhetoric during his Afghan trip.

He candidly said he was surprised at the performance of Afghanistan's fledgling armed forces, and stressed they were taking the lead in actions against the Taliban.

"I will be honest with you, it has gone better than I might have expected a year ago," he said.

While sceptics might question just how effective the Afghan force will be once Western troops have left, Obama's bluntness was striking.

Defence officials have told AFP they are "encouraged" that the president may be leaning toward a recommendation in the upper range of their hopes - around 10 000 troops for a residual US force.

'Obama's war'

There are political as well as strategic reasons why Obama may make that decision.

He was elected in 2008 on a platform of winding down foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he always made a distinction between the two conflicts.

He branded Iraq as a "dumb" war, and recently in Manila said it was "disastrous".

He argued that Afghanistan had been neglected because of Iraq and promised to fix it - and as president sent tens of thousands of troops into battle.

There was always a suspicion that Obama's bullishness on Afghanistan offered him political cover in being anti-war on Iraq.

But the Afghan fight has perhaps proven more bloody and protracted than he had hoped.

More than 2 300 US troops have now died in Afghanistan and the Taliban is not yet defeated - although the administration can credibly claim to have devastated the core of al-Qaeda with ruthless drone strikes.

There is a clear sense that Afghanistan is "Obama's war".

While he pulled out all US troops from Iraq and was unable to agree a residual force in a country descending back into an inferno - that war will always be George W Bush's.

History would take a dimmer view of the current president's complicity if Afghanistan tips deeper into turmoil - and second term presidents are always thinking of their legacy.

Obama also risks being condemned by his own words if he leaves Afghanistan alone.

"We must realise that the 21st Century's front lines are not only found on the field of battle. They are found in the training exercise near Kabul, in the police station in Kandahar and in the rule of law in Herat," he said as a candidate in 2008.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  barack obama  |  afghanistan  |  us  |  9/11 attacks

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

Folau a doubt for Wales clash
England merchandise 'reduced to clear'
White all ears over England job
16 stats and facts: Springboks v USA
Traffic Alerts

Are you burning the candle at both ends? Listen to your body and your emotional reactions. Know when to slow down or stop. It is a...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.