Proclaiming “the first Memorial Day since our war ended in Afghanistan”, President prepared to pay an annual visit to Arlington National cemetery Monday as questions lingered about the role of the nearly 10,000 US troops expected to remain in Afghanistan into the next year.
In March, the White House a delay in anticipated troop withdrawals, citing ongoing security concerns. According to the administration, US forces currently fill “non-combat” roles including coordinating drone strikes and counter-terrorism missions and training Afghan security forces. The residual force is about 10% of the peak force in 2011.
Yet the continued troop presence in Afghanistan seems to give the lie to repeated vows by the Obama administration that the war was over or ending, including by Vice-President Joe Biden that the US would be out of Afghanistan by 2014 “come hell or high water”.
In his visit to Arlington last year, Obama laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and that “by the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to end”.
Two months ago, a change to the plan was announced.
“I made it clear that we’re determined to preserve the gains our troops have won,” Obama said at a 24 March news conference alongside the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani. “I’ve decided that we will maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of this year. The specific trajectory of the 2016 drawdown will be established later this year.”
Supporters of a continued US troop presence in say the force is essential to US counter-terrorism efforts and warn that without such troops in place, a Taliban resurgence would be more likely.
The commander of international forces in Afghanistan said on Saturday that the Islamic State militant group, which is gaining territory in Iraq and Syria despite US airstrikes, is trying to recruit fighters in Afghanistan over social media.
“We don’t want it to continue to grow,” General John F Campbell.
More than 2,200 Americans have died in the 14-year-old Afghanistan war. In a pre-recorded weekly address before his planned Arlington visit, Obama said he would use the occasion to tell the life stories of some of those killed, including “the first American to give his life in this new mission”.
“In Afghanistan, our troops now have a new mission – training and advising Afghan forces,” Obama . “John Dawson was one of them. From Massachusetts, he loved the Bruins and the Pats. In April, he gave his life as an army combat medic – the first American to give his life in this new mission. This Memorial Day, we’ll honor Corporal Dawson as well.
“Like generations of heroes before them, these Americans gave everything they had– not for glory, not even for gratitude, but for something greater than themselves.”