Third presidential debate covers foreign policy
Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan a point of disagreement
U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001
Afghanistan factored in Monday’s third and final presidential debate, which covered foreign policy. At one point, President Barack Obama accused Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney of initially being against a withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
The claim: “In the same way that you initially opposed a timetable in Afghanistan, now you’re for it, although it depends,” Obama said.
The facts: As early as last year, Mitt Romney said he agreed with a 2014 withdrawal date.
“The timetable by the end of 2014 is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces,” he said during a November 2011 Republican candidate debate.
And during a recent address at a veterans convention, Romney reiterated his support for a 2014 withdrawal.
“As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” he said.
But during that same speech Romney added a caveat, saying he would talk to commanders on the ground to evaluate the conditions in Afghanistan before the withdrawal.
“I will evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders,” he said.
This stipulation of seeking advice from commanders ahead of the withdrawal is where Obama and Romney differ.
The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that a 2014 withdrawal is absolute. Most recently, Vice President Joe Biden said many times during his debate with Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, “we are leaving in 2014.”
The Obama administration does however plan to leave 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, should the Afghan government agree to it.
During and interview with ABC in July, Romney again left the door open to moving back the 2014 deadline if commanders on the ground in Afghanistan told him that they needed U.S. troops to stay longer.
“I don’t want to go into hypotheticals, but we recognize the circumstances may change on the ground either for the better or for the worse. I don’t think you set hard and fast deadlines without recognizing that there is the potential for conditions to change,” he said.
Romney’s criticism has centered on Obama announcing the withdrawal date.
“Announcing a withdrawal date, that was wrong,” Romney said during his announcement of entering the presidential race in June of 2011. “The Taliban may not have watches, but they do have calendars.”
Mostly false. Romney agrees with a 2014 withdrawal deadline but has added the caveat that he would seek advice from commanders on the ground at that point, leaving the door open to possibly staying longer. What Romney has disagreed with was the announcement of the withdrawal deadline, not the deadline itself.