Afghanistan: what's next?

, Posted: Tue, May 27 2014 at 2:18 PM, Updated: Tue, May 27 2014 at 2:28 PM

(NBC News) President Obama announced Tuesday a final withdrawal plan for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the White House, the president said U.S. combat missions in Afghanistan will be over by the end of this year.

"This is how wars end in the 21st century: not through signing ceremonies, but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who are trained to take the lead and, ultimately, full responsibility," he said in remarks at the White House.

After the long war launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Obama said, "now, we are finishing the job we started."

The United States will keep a contingency force of 9,800 troops beyond 2014, mostly in Kabul and on Bagram Air Base.

The president said all American troops will be pulled out of the country by the end of 2016.

The troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 only if a bilateral security agreement is signed between the United States and Afghanistan.

The president also said that the United States will focus on two narrow missions after 2014 — training Afghan forces and supporting operations against al Qaeda.

Tuesday's announcement brings Obama closer to fulfilling a major campaign promise as his party braces for the midterm elections this fall -- to draw two unpopular wars to a close.

"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," he said.

The plan assumes that Afghan leaders will sign a security agreement with the United States. Both Afghan presidential candidates have committed to signing it if they are elected, the official noted.

The presidential runoff is next month. Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai frustrated American decision-making by refusing to sign a security agreement.

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