President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday evening that the United States would begin the process of bringing home thousands of troops stationed in Afghanistan with the goal of pulling out 33,000 forces by the end of summer next year.
"Of course, huge challenges remain," Obama said in a prime-time televised address. "This is the beginning — but not the end — of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government."
The Associated Press notes that even with the drawdown, roughly 70,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan under the plan outlined by the president.
The 30,000-plus U.S. troops expected to return by summer of next year would come home just months prior to the 2012 presidential election.
Following the president's remarks on Wednesday night, three top tier GOP contenders -- former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman -- issued statements on the address. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, a lesser known Republican hopeful, also responded.
Below, a slideshow highlighting reaction from the Republican presidential candidates. (Note: We will update this post with additional reaction as it is released.)
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney issued the following statement on the president's speech: "We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn't adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America's brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead."
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman released the following statement on Obama's remarks: "With America mired in three expensive conflicts, we have a generational opportunity to reset our position in the world in a way that makes sense for our security as well as our budget. The war in Afghanistan is an asymmetrical war, and our approach ought to adjust accordingly. Our troops have done everything we've asked them to. They've routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections. Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight. We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counter intelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat. The War on Terror is being fought against a global enemy, and it is critical that we have the resources to fight them wherever they're found."
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty appeared on Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor" on Wednesday night following Obama's remarks. Politico reports that the Republican hopeful called the president's address "deeply concerning." "When America goes to war, America needs to win," he said. "We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus's advice and to get those security forces built up where they can pick up the slack as we draw down." Pawlenty issued the following statement on Obama's address: "I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning. Look how he phrased the outcome of this war. He said we need to end the war 'responsibly.' When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully. And what that means now is not nation building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus' advice and to get those security forces built up to the point where they can pick up the slack as we draw down. ... "This decision should be based on conditions on the ground and success, not some vague notions of a responsible wind down and then jumping over what the real mission is now which is stabilizing the security of the country."
Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson released the following statement on Obama's address: "While bringing any of our troops home from Afghanistan is a good thing, the President's plan is not much more than lip-service to his pledge to begin withdrawing by this summer. Only reducing troop numbers to pre-surge levels, and taking a year to do it, is not acceptable to the growing number of Americans, like me, who get the reality that there is no compelling reason to risk another life or another dollar in a conflict that has no end -- and no remaining national security justification. Thanks to our quick and totally justified action in 2001, al Qaeda essentially left Afghanistan nine years ago. We should have done the same."
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain released the following response to the president's address: President Obama's statement tonight is a stark reminder that while one might campaign in poetry, one must govern in prose. While all Americans hope and pray for a speedy, victorious resolution to the war in Afghanistan that prevents the continued loss of our national treasures--- our men and women in uniform--- and our national treasury, how we define an honorable exit remains to be seen. The President suggested that we cannot become isolationist or engage in every international conflict, but instead, we must charter a "middle course." How does he define this? It seems to be yet another foggy foreign policy coming from this administration. Instead of providing the American people with clarity, President Obama proposes an abrupt withdrawal of our troops that could potentially compromise the legitimate gains we have made in Afghanistan. Sadly, I fear President Obama's decision could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops. President Obama is correct on one account: it is time for nation-building at home and high time the Afghan people take more responsibility in bringing peace and stability to their own country.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's campaign issued the following statement on Obama's speech: "This move is too little, too late," said Ron Paul 2012 Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton. "When candidate Obama was running for the presidency, he campaigned largely on bringing our troops home, yet we are not only still in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we've expanded into Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan. Despite this purely political move, there will still be thousands of American soldiers in harm's way by the end of this drawdown." "Osama Bin Laden was very clear about his desire to suck America into a no-win war in the Middle East so they could pick us off over there," continued Benton. "We shouldn't allow Bin Laden to win from beyond the grave; we have fallen precisely into the trap he set for us - stretching our forces thin trying to nation-build and sending our men and women to fight without clear objectives. Afghanistan was the downfall of the Soviet Union. We must act now so it is not the same for America. It's time to bring our troops home to defend this country."
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum released the following statement on the president's address: "President Obama speaks of winding down our engagement in Afghanistan, but he does not emphasize the need for victory," said Senator Santorum. "Every American wants our brave men and women home safely, but we cannot let those who've given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we've made thus far. We must be squarely focused on succeeding in Afghanistan rather than on politically motivated troop withdrawals. Sadly, President Obama doesn't seem to share that commitment."