Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, his first since 2012. During the trip, Hagel announced the delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 U.S. service members from Afghanistan. This will happen during the transition to Operation Resolute Support (ORS), the post-2014 mission in the country still fighting Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Hagel was present at a joint press conference in Kabul, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Hagel discussed the reasons for the delayed withdrawal of some troops, and the transition from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission to ORS. Hagel also discussed how the Afghan Parliament approved the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
The Defense Secretary cited previous delays with signing the agreements for the later-than-expected withdrawal.
“This will mean a delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 U.S. troops,” Hagel said, “so that up to 10,800 troop, rather than 9,800, could remain in Afghanistan through the end of this year and through the first few months next year.”
Hagel also mentioned that the mission and the long-term schedule for a withdrawal from Afghanistan were unchanged. The Pentagon leader said that U.S. forces in Afghanistan would continue to have the right and the capacity to defend themselves against attacks. The U.S. forces that remain in Afghanistan for Operation Resolute Support will continue to train and assist Afghan Security Forces. Hopefully, this will deter groups like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban from using Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to launch attacks on the U.S. and its allies.
Hagel, who recently tendered his resignation as Secretary of Defense, said that he observed progress in Afghanistan during his time in the Pentagon, and before with the U.S. Senate.
“I have seen, first-hand, over many years of visits to this country the enormous progress that this country has made in its development, in its democracy, in its possibilities and hope for all its people,” Hagel said. “And that, I think, is further testimony to the strong partnership of our two countries.”
NATO coalition forces will transition to Operation Resolute Support at the end of December, 2014. Then Afghan forces will assume full responsibility for their nation’s security, while U.S. and coalition forces will train, advise and assist.
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Military Connection: Hagel’s Visit to Afghanistan: By Debbie Gregory