President Obama’s decision to keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond his presidency angered many who were expecting a complete withdrawal.
But Pentagon officials were also outraged, as the decision marked the sixth time the Obama administration ignored the advice of his own military experts.
Despite running on a campaign to end America’s wars abroad, President Obama announced earlier this month that the US would keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. Naturally, the announcement didn’t sit well with Obama’s base, but it also frustrated his critics.
Given the still volatile situation in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials had fought to at least maintain current troop levels of 9,800.
“The security situation in Afghanistan is so far from stable that to pull out all the troops, even for this president, doesn’t make any sense,” retired Army Gen. John Keane, who regularly advises the US Congress on security matters, told the Washington Times.
And this isn’t the first time Obama has risked national security by ignoring the advice of his generals.
“Quite unprecedented, this is the sixth time President Obama has not listened to a field commander recommendation on force levels for troops in combat,” Keane added.
In the past, the president has also rejected the advice his chief of US Central Command, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who wanted to leave 20,000 troops in Iraq. Obama also ignored advice on four other instances relating to Afghanistan troop levels.
Keane is concerned that insufficient personnel will make it difficult for soldiers to train Afghan forces – ostensibly one of the sole reasons for an American presence in the country.
“What suffers as a result of this decision is the train-and-assist mission, because we won’t have sufficient troops to do it properly,” he said.
While Keane maintains that Army Gen. John Campbell, the leading NATO commander in Afghanistan, had requested the troop level to remain at 9,800, the administration denies this. On Thursday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the decision was “consistent” with Campbell’s advice.
While the Obama administration appears to have split the difference between its base and its neocons, the US will likely be embroiled in the Middle East for decades to come.