U.S. Marine Corps Photo By: Sgt. Frances Johnson/Released
Sergeant James Shutts and Cpl. David Smith, UH-1Y Huey crew chiefs with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, search for their target as the aircraft flies over a sector of Helmand province, Afghanistan, in order to provide assault support for ground troops, Feb. 15, 2014. The Marines and aircraft of HMLA-369 are heading home to Camp Pendleton after handing over authority to another squadron out of North Carolina.
President Barack Obama will seek to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally ends later this year and then will withdraw most of those forces by the end of 2016, he announced Tuesday.
“This year we will bring America’s longest war to a responsible end,” President Obama said from the White House Rose Garden.
The plan calls for the U.S. military to draw down from its current force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year. Those troops, dispatched throughout Afghanistan, would focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces. They would not be engaged in combat missions.
“I think Americans have learned it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them,” Obama said. “This is how wars end in the 21st century.”
Thousands of military families based in San Diego with the U.S. Navy, at MCAS Miramar, MCRD and Camp Pendleton in Oceanside are keeping an eye on the drawdown.
At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded. Many of those were trained or based out of Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.
San Diego-based Marines were among the last to leave Helmand Province in April were based in San Diego. Leading them was Capt. Alistair Howard, 36, from La Mesa, California.
He spoke with NBC 7 after his troops pulled out of the Sangin Valley and talked about what he would say to those friends and fellow Marines who lost life and limb during the mission.
“If they could see what we saw when we left," Howard said. "That the people of Sangin are very successful and they are going to live a better life because of what we did.”
The two-year plan is contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign the agreement, U.S. officials are confident that either of the candidates seeking to replace him would give his approval.
“We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place and it’s not America’s responsibility to make it one,” Obama said, adding that U.S. forces still must try and offer Afghans a chance to seek peace.
Obama's decision is largely in line with what military commanders have been seeking. The troops remaining in Afghanistan will focus on training Afghan security forces and on counterterrorism efforts.
Over the course of next year, the number of troops would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan.
On Saturday, the “Gunfighters” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 based at Camp Pendleton prepared to return home by handing over authority to a squadron out of North Carolina.
The team flew 1,500 missions totaling 4,787 flight hours while in Helmand province, Pentagon officials said.
Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.
U.S. military commanders have been arguing for months to keep roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, if only for a limited time, while they bolster the Afghan forces' ability to do long-term logistical planning and increase their air force capabilities.