Obama Notifies Congress He Does Not Know 'Precise Scope' or 'Duration' of War on Terror Troop Deployments

President Obama (Photo: Getty)
President Obama (Photo: Getty)

This afternoon, the White House Press Office released a report sent from President Barack Obama to the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate notifying them “about deployments of U.S. Armed Forces equipped for combat.” In his report, the president said he “will direct additional measures against al-Qa’ida, the Taliban and associated forces,” but said, “it is not possible to know at this time the precise scope or the duration of the deployments of U.S. Armed forces to counter this terrorist threat to the United States.” 

This report indicates the White House may not be ready to make any solid commitments about withdrawing the troops that are still fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. On the campaign trail, President Obama had suggested American forces would depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I’ve set a timetable.  We will have them all out of there by 2014,” President Obama told a crowd in September.

After President Obama’s remarks about the withdrawal timetable caught on in the press, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pushed back against the idea the president had committed to remove all of the troops fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“He never said that all the troops would be out,” Mr. Carney said. “What we’ve said, as we did in Iraq — and I think this is a good way to look at it —is in Iraq, there were steps of—sort of milestones where troops began to come home, more and more authorities transferred over to Iraqi security forces. The U.S. forces that remained as that process took place moved out of the cities and on to bases. And then the full transfer took place and combat mission ended, after which remaining U.S. forces eventually came home and the last U.S. soldier left, with the exception obviously of those who are at the embassy.”

Mr. Carney went on to say the president remained committed to having Afghan forces take over primary security duties in the country by the end of 2014.

“I understand you’re trying to engage in a clever game of gotcha,” said Mr. Carney. “Everyone understands what the president’s policy is, which is, a full transition to Afghan security lead by 2014. We have been abundantly clear about the stages of the implementation of that policy and as in Iraq, that means that while not all US troops will have withdrawn necessarily by then, the Afghan security forces will be in full security transition, will be in full security lead and U.S. forces will continue to be drawn down.”

The report the president sent to Congress today is part of his requirement to keep Congress apprised of troop deployments under the War Powers Resolution. It also included a “classified annex” with further information about War On Terror-related troop deployments. Politicker reached out to the White House Press Office to ask whether the statement that he “does not know the precise scope or the duration” of these deployments means there may be deviation from the goal of “a full transition to Afghan security lead by 2014.” We also asked whether the report, which came out as news of the school shooting in Connecticut dominated headlines, was originally scheduled to be released today. We received a response from the White House’s Assistant Press Secretary for National Security and Defense, Tanya Bradsher, who described the report as part of the president’s ongoing commitment to keep Congress “appropriately informed” about troop deployments in conjunction with the War Powers Resolution.

“Consistent with the War Powers Resolution, the President provides a periodic report to the Congress on the status of hostilities or certain situations where U.S. Armed Forces have been introduced without a declaration of war, as well as on the scope and duration of such hostilities or situations.  These reports are delivered no less often than once every 6 months,” Ms. Bradsher said. “We are strongly committed to keeping the Congress appropriately informed in this critical area of foreign policy.”

Ms. Bradsher did not address whether this report was scheduled for release prior to today’s shooting or whether the White House was expecting any change to the prior goal of transitioning primary security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. Obama Notifies Congress He Does Not Know 'Precise Scope' or 'Duration' of War on Terror Troop Deployments