During his State of the Union speech tonight, President Obama will reportedly announce an ambitious timetable for withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan, where approximately 66,000 troops are currently deployed. According to Jake Tapper, who broke the news on CNN this morning (since confirmed by White House reporters at a pre-SOTU briefing with officials), the President will call home 34,000 troops — more than half — by the beginning of 2014. That'll leave 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, a number likely to decrease even more throughout 2014, according to the Obama administration's plan to wind down the bulk of the war in Afghanistan.
Compared to the Iraq War, which lasted more than seven years and peaked at 177,000 deployed U.S. troops in 2007, the numbers in Afghanistan may seem small. But the conflict in Afghanistan has continued for more than twelve years (since October 2001, shortly after 9/11), and isn't actually scheduled to end after 2014 — beyond which thousands of troops may remain stationed in Afghanistan. Halving the number of troops deployed is certainly welcome news for the military, who have been fighting in southwest Asia for more than a decade. But it doesn't resolve the much thornier question of how, and when, to fully extract ourselves from Afghanistan.