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Obama says US will withdraw troops from Afghanistan by end of 2016

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Pete Souza / The White House

The United States plans to withdraw all of its remaining combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, bringing an end to more than a decade of war. President Obama announced the plan today, saying that the United States' combat mission would end this year as troops continued to withdraw from the country. There are around 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan today. Obama plans to cut that number down to 9,800 by the end of 2014 and to less than half of that by the end of 2015. By the end of 2016, the US plans to maintain no more than a standard embassy presence, in addition to security assistance for it, within the country.

"Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one.""The bottom line is, it's time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," Obama said. Though statements have previously been made with much more optimistic estimates on troop withdrawal, Obama notes that numbers have been reduced dramatically from the 180,000 present when he took office in 2009. Though proper plans are now in place, they're still contingent upon Afghanistan's president signing an agreement, which its current president reportedly won't do. Presidential elections are just weeks away in Afghanistan, however, and Obama says that the two candidates have said they'll sign it.

During their final two years in Afghanistan, US troops will not be patrolling and will instead shift into an advisory role, allowing Afghan troops to take over. Obama says that the US is open to continue training Afghan troops after 2014, and that it is also open to supporting counterterrorism missions against al-Qaeda, but nothing else beyond those "two narrow missions." If the withdrawal is completed on time, it'll be finished before Obama leaves office in 2017, and — coincidentally or not — it'll be wrapping up around the time of the next US presidential election.

"We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America's responsibility to make it one," Obama said. "The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans."