Obama Declares U.S. Troops Will Leave Afghanistan By End Of 2016, Finally

President Obama has introduced a new plan that will remove almost all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, marking the end of the decade-long military occupation of the country. The plan was confirmed Tuesday by a senior administration official, with a statement from the president following. The withdrawal strategy will only be implemented if Afghan leaders sign a bilateral security agreement. After this year, there will be 9,800 troops in Afghanistan; at present, there are roughly 32,000.

Under the new strategy, nearly 10,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2014. That number will be reduced by 50 percent in 2015, with the remaining combat troops leaving the country by the end of 2016. At the end 2016, the only American presence in Afghanistan will be a U.S. embassy and a security assistance force with fewer than 1,000 soldiers.

The administration official added that Obama is open to other military efforts in Afghanistan, including the training of Afghan forces and security operations against remaining al Qaeda members. Currently, there are nearly 33,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

The news of withdrawal comes on the heels of Obama's surprise Memorial Day Weekend trip to the war-torn Middle Eastern country. There, Obama visited Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. He addressed about 3,000 troops, hinting at future plans for complete withdrawal from Afghanistan:

Last year marked a major milestone — for the first time, Afghan forces took the lead to secure their own country. And today, you’re in a support role — helping to train and assist Afghan forces. For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan. And by the end of this year, the transition will be complete and Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our combat mission will be over. America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.
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Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there were about 26,000 troops stationed in the U.S. Central Command region, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2008, there were 294,000 troops in the region for both operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, according to data from the Department of Defense.

When Obama took office in January 2009, more than 38,000 soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan. After deploying 30,000, Obama first announced his plans for Afghanistan withdrawal in June 2011, pledging to complete the "process of transition" from combat to support by the end of 2014.