Ending American involvement in Afghanistan has been one of the cornerstones of President Barack Obama’s agenda since he took office, and he is expected to announce the next step in that plan during his State of the Union on Tuesday night. Officials familiar with his speech say that he will call for 34,000 troops to be removed from the embattled nation by early 2014, according to CBS News.
The announcement will come amid continued concerns surrounding whether or not Afghan forces will be able to take over security once the United States hands over the reins. However, the White House official who offered the glimpse at Obama’s speech painted a more optimistic picture of the future of Afghan soldiers.
“Afghan forces continue to grow stronger, with 352,000 now in training or on duty,” the administration official said. “Afghan forces are leading nearly 90 percent of operations across the country, and by this spring, they’ll be assuming the lead across the entire country, with the United States and ISAF stepped back to a train, advise and assist role.”
There are currently an estimated 66,000 American forces in Afghanistan, which makes up the large majority of 100,000 international troops still stationed there. The current plans have soldiers leaving the country by the end of 2014. In fact, the United States has already taken steps to remove some of its military hardware, according to Pakistan’s The Express Tribune. Earlier this week, convoys of containers holding U.S. equipment started to make their way out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan.
While most Pentagon officials have agreed on the 2014 deadline, there is still some uncertainty over whether the U.S. will have any presence, even a minimal one, after they officially withdraw. There have been a number of conflicting reports, which have put the number of troops remaining in Afghanistan at as little as 1,000 or as many as 20,000. Still, The New York Times reported earlier this year that Obama was weighing the possibility of leaving no troops behind.
If past addresses are any indication, Afghanistan will likely not be the only mention of the troops during Obama’s speech. During his inauguration in January, he spoke about the importance of taking care of veterans once they return home.