TIME Afghanistan

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Lone American Still Held in Afghanistan, Safely Returned

President Barack Obama speaks with Jani Bergdahl, left, and Bob Bergdahl, right, the parents of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, after the announcement that Bowe Bergdahl has been released from captivity, May 31, 2014. Ngan Mandel—AFP/Getty Images

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier still in captivity in Afghanistan, was released and returned to U.S. special operations forces Saturday. Berghdal had been held since 2009, when he was captured in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province.

Berghdal was released in exchange for five Afghan Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, who have been delivered into Qatari custody, officials said.

“While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten. His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day,” President Barack Obama said alongside Bergdahl’s parents at the White House Saturday. “And he wasn’t forgotten by his country, because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”

The five prisoners are Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq, an administration official confirmed.

According to a senior Defense official, the handover occurred at approximately 10:30 am Eastern time Saturday along the eastern Afghanistan border with Pakistan, and took place quickly without incident, peacefully and without violence. Berghdal was in the custody of about 18 Taliban fighters and was ushered onto a waiting helicopter by U.S. special operations forces. Once aboard, Berghdal wrote on a paper plate “SF?,” asking over the loud aircraft engines whether he was being rescued by special forces operators. The official said the troops replied loudly “yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.” Berghdal then broke down crying.

Bergdahl is currently being held at a U.S. forward operating base under the care of American doctors until he is cleared for further travel, at which point he will be transferred to Bagram Airfield.

A 23-year-old private first class at the time of his capture on June 30, 2009, Bergdahl, a native of Hailey, Idaho, was promoted twice during his captivity to the rank of sergeant and is now 28 years old. American officials believe he spent much of his captivity in Pakistan and are not sure when he was moved to Afghanistan for the transfer. The last video showing proof that Berghdal was still alive was seen in January of this year.

Bowe Bergdahl
This file image provided by IntelCenter on Dec. 8, 2010, shows a frame grab from a video released by the Taliban containing footage of a man believed to be Bowe Bergdahl, left. IntelCenter/AP

President Barack Obama called Berghdal’s parents Saturday morning to inform them of their son’s release. “We were so joyful and relieved when President Obama called us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming home! We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son,” the Bergdahl family said in a statement. “Today, we are ecstatic!”

The U.S. began efforts to bring about Afghan reconciliation with the Taliban in late 2010, and since May 2011 Bergdahl’s release has “been a central element of our reconciliation efforts,” a senior administration official said Saturday. The transfer was not directly negotiated with the Taliban, but through the Amir of Qatar, officials said, whose help is being called “instrumental” to the agreement. Talks to bring about Berghdal’s release resumed only in the last several weeks, after the Taliban showed interest in resuming dialogue regarding Berghdal and its prisoners being held at Guantanamo. Obama called the Amir Tuesday to confirm the transfers, and the Qataris facilitated the handing over of Bergdahl.

The announcement comes days after President Obama announced that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will end this year, pending a complete withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2016.

“Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years,” Obama said in a statement Saturday. “Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Qatar is taking security precautions with the former Guantanamo prisoners to ensure U.S. safety is not compromised. “The United States government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, nor did we stop working to bring him back,” Hagel said in a statement. The former detainees will be under a travel ban for a year, and will be subjects to other restrictions on their movement and activities, official said.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to brief him on the agreement Saturday, he said in a statement.

American officials indicated they believe the transfer will ease the way for reconciliation with the Taliban. “By conducting successful indirect talks with the Taliban’s political commission, this transfer was a part of a broader reconciliation framework,” a senior administration official said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Vietnam war P.O.W., said in a statement Saturday that “all Americans share in the joy that the Bergdahl family feels today and for which they have waited so long.” However, he also expressed skepticism about the future of the five prisoners transferred from Guantanamo.

“I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners or engage in any activities that can threaten the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan,” added McCain.

TIME faith

Pacifism Does Not Honor Veterans

It’s easy to fire rhetorical darts at wars. It’s much more complicated to pursue the best policies that will ensure security for our nation.

What is the best way to remember America’s veterans, OUR veterans, and the wars in which they served?

In his Memorial Day column “The Questions We Don’t Ask on Memorial Day,” Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a prominent liberal religious advocacy group, reflects on the anguish of Americans who have lost loved ones to war. He adds: “I also wonder why nobody raises the questions about why all these sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, dads and moms–all these best of friends–had to die in those wars.” And he asks: “So why can’t we ask if these wars were right or wrong, worth the terrible sacrifices, or what we have learned from the wars? What was gained or lost? Who decided to go to war? And why do their families often bear the least consequences for the war decisions?”

Wallis admits these questions anger some and imply disrespect for veterans. But he insists that “to raise the hard questions of why wars were decided and who decided them is actually a way to respect those who paid such a heavy price and perhaps would prevent more such horrible human costs.” He recalls the Vietnam War as the “war in my youth,” which “was based on lies and was exposed as a political and moral mistake, but went on even after we knew it was wrong and destined for disaster,” and “violated our nation’s best values and religious convictions.”

Iraq was another war “based on lies,” Wallis asserts, and “morally compounded by being a war over oil.” And he describes the Afghanistan War as having been launched to “bring those who attacked us to justice, became the longest war in our history, again without honest answers to what we really have accomplished.” He laments that “war has become such a business in America, whose beneficiaries are not the people we remember on Memorial Day,” and whose “victims,” i.e. those who served in the armed forces, are disproportionately the poor.

What Wallis does not mention is that he is a pacifist who opposes all war. Pacifism has a long, reputable history within Christianity, although it has always been a small minority view. He does not mention veterans from the Korean War or World War II, although he must similarly disapprove of those wars.

But pacifists, especially if they are Christians, in their faithful witness, should not distort history or malign the traditional majority of their faith who affirm the justice of some wars. What was the “lie” behind the Iraq War? Lies are deliberate untruths, but almost no one doubted that Saddam Hussein had deployable chemical weapons. Opponents of that war like Wallis never explained their own alternative to handling the murderous Saddam, nor how the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as hosts to the al Qaeda, could be displaced peacefully.

As to Vietnam, more died in the subsequent “peace” of Communist conquest in Southeast Asia than during the previous 20 years of war. Many war opponents glamorized those conquerors without acknowledging their murder and repression.

All wars illustrate humanity’s intrinsic sinfulness, for which religion ideally offers redemption and moral uplift. But in our fallen world, with its dictators, aspiring conquerors and terrorists, every lawful government is divinely ordained, as Christians and most people of faith agree, to defend the innocent and to pursue approximate justice, however imperfectly. It’s easy to fire rhetorical darts at wars and the always flawed leaders who lead our nation into them. For those with real responsibility, it’s much more complicated to pursue the best policies that will ensure security for our nation and an at least incrementally more just world.

The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, Korea, World War II and others across history had noble intent and, like all wars, had their share of tragic consequences. Even “good” wars are filled with suffering by the innocent. Wars are morally justified only when the alternatives are even worse.

Veterans in America’s wars, whether the volunteers of the last 40 years, or the draftees of earlier decades, were not “victims.” They were and are Americans who sacrificially served their country. They should be honored, not romanticized, nor condescended to.

Wallis suggests Memorial Day as a time for asking “hard questions about our wars, what we have learned, and whether such painful losses are truly worth the terrible cost.” Perhaps those questions should also include asking what the world might look like absent the service of America’s veterans and the willingness of America to resist aggression and tyranny.

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. He is author of Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.


Pictures of the Week: May 23 – May 30

From the Santa Barbara drive-by shootings and Ukrainian presidential elections, to martial law in Thailand and Kim and Kanye’s wedding extravaganza, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.



TIME Military

5,565 Days: Why Declare When U.S. Troops Will Leave Afghanistan?

Afghan youngsters head home near Kandahar, just as U.S. troops will be doing. Nathan Derrick / Getty Images / Moment RF

Commanders fear Taliban, al-Qaeda resurgence after GIs head home

The timing of the launch of the war in Afghanistan was a well-kept secret until just before it began on Oct. 7, 2001. That preserved the precious element of surprise, and gave U.S. troops every possible edge once the war began.

But we now know when it will end: Dec. 31, 2016, 5,565 days after it began and more than 30 months from now. That gives U.S. troops—and the enemy—a calendar for action.

Time is an element on the battlefield, as vital—perhaps moreso—than troop numbers or ground covered. But President Barack Obama, backed by the U.S. public, has concluded that by the end of 2016—after more than 15 years of the nation’s longest war—it will be time to furl the colors and come home.

Why make such a declaration so early? Is the President that confident that whatever progress has been made will stick? That it’s time for Afghans to tend to their own security? Or are the American people simply so tired of war they want the troops brought home as soon as possible?

No, it’s not that the U.S. is tired, insists Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It would be a mistake to decide that we are politically exhausted or weary militarily,” Dempsey said Wednesday. Facing budget pressures, he said, it’s time for the U.S. to partner with other nations in grappling with the long-term challenges posed by al-Qaeda and other terror groups.

But the decision poses a risk, the Army’s former No. 2 officer warns. “By ending the war in 2016 with no residual force whatsoever, [Obama’s] creating a relatively high-risk situation that could squander the gains that we have made,” retired four-star Army general John Keane says of Obama’s troop-withdrawal timetable. “What I fear—and I can see it coming—is that al-Qaeda has always coveted Afghanistan,” he says. “They will want to make their way back into Afghanistan and we will not have a capability to deal with them.”

Then there are the history books to think about, a former top U.S commander in Afghanistan notes. “The President probably wasn’t talking as much to the audience in Afghanistan as the audience in the United States,” says David Barno, a retired three-star Army officer who commanded all U.S. and allied troops there from 2003 to 2005. “My speculation would be that the President feels strongly that part of his legacy is to have ended both of the wars [in Afghanistan and Iraq] that were in full-bore when he took the job.”

It’s silly to suggest the U.S. is “rushing” to leave after it has been in Afghanistan for nearly 13 years and sacrificed 2,223 troops (74% of which under Obama) in its effort to oust the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and rebuild the country. “We believe it’s necessary for planning purposes to be clear to our own government, and to our allies and partners, about the commitments that the United States is prepared to make in 2015 and then through 2016—that’s prudent planning,” a senior Administration official said. “We never signed up to be a permanent security force in Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban.”

But while some military veterans agree that a “residual force” of 9,800 U.S. troops may be adequate post-2014—assuming expected Afghan agreement—they are bemused at the President’s insistence on declaring such a deadline. “The military command definitely desired a residual force to stay without time constraints based on the conditions on the ground,” Keane says. The U.S. troop presence will drop to about 4,900 in 2016, and vanish—except for traditional embassy and arms-sales billets—by 2017.

Barno fears that the $4 billion the U.S. is pumping into Afghanistan each year will stop flowing shortly after the U.S. troops come home from what he calls an “inconclusive” war. “My biggest worry is we’re setting the stage for a post-2016 cutoff of financial aid to the Afghan military that will cause it to come apart at the seams,” he says. “Then you’ve put your entire 15-year enterprise at risk.”

TIME White House

White House Proposes $5 Billion Global Anti-Terrorism Fund

U.S. soldiers walks along a ridgeline during a patrol up a mountainside near Forward Operating Base Shank on March 31, 2014 near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan.
U.S. soldier walks along a ridgeline during a patrol up a mountainside near Forward Operating Base Shank on March 31, 2014 near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan. Scott Olson—Getty Images

President Obama announced plans for a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Wednesday

Updated 11:35am E.T.

President Barack Obama unveiled a proposed $5-billion “terrorism partnership fund” Wednesday to aid other countries in fighting extremists and other radical groups.

The President said he would ask Congress to support the establishment of a Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions,” Obama said, “including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.”

The fund would add vital resources to help tackle fallout from the ongoing conflict in Syria, he said, where fighting between the regime of President Bashar Assad and opposition forces has attracted extremist Islamist groups seeking to take advantage of a power vacuum. “With the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors—Jordan and Lebanon; Turkey and Iraq—as they host refugees, and confront terrorists working across Syrian borders,” Obama said.

The fund would allow the Department of Defense to improve and expand counterterrorism training, assist other countries’ efforts, and collaborate with the State Department to support stable governments around the world in their “efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorist ideology,” the White House said.

During television appearances on Wednesday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry defended Obama’s plans to reduce U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

“This is not an abandonment of Afghanistan,” Kerry said on NBC’s Today show. “This is an emboldenment. This is an empowerment of Afghanistan.”

While appearing on CBS This Morning, Kerry said that withdrawing from Afghanistan will allow the U.S. to devote more resources to fighting terrorism around the word. The nation’s foreign policy, he said, should be updated to reflect the “rapidly changing, more complex world where terrorism is the principal challenge.”

Kerry also told Good Morning America on ABC that the U.S. has “people on the ground” and is “working hand in hand with Nigerians” to recover the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamic radicals.

TIME Religion

The Questions We Don’t Ask on Memorial Day

Why can’t we ask if these wars were right or wrong, worth the terrible sacrifices, or what we have learned from them?

Monday was Memorial Day, full of family trips and events, lots of picnics and barbecues with friends and neighbors, and a national day off from school and work. For us it was the Northwest Little League All Star game here at Friendship Field in Washington D.C., a family tradition for many years. My wife Joy, the Commissioner, organized the game day, including a wonderful picnic on a glorious baseball day for players, parents, relatives, and many fans–with 300 hotdogs!

It was also a day to remember all the people who have died in America’s wars. For the families of those war victims and so many of their fellow veterans it was a day of remembering and mourning. In the quiet moments of listening to the national anthem while looking at the American flag, our little baseball crowd with hats off might have been thinking about the meaning of the national holiday. But right afterward it was “Play Ball.”

On Memorial Days I always end up listening to the many stories from the families who lost their most beloved ones and from the veterans whose eyes still tear up when they recall their dearest buddies lost on battlefields far away. The emotion and pain always moves me. And watching all the messages of veterans’ organizations, you also see the incredible pain of those who came back from war with injuries and memories that still afflict their bodies, minds, and hearts. But I also wonder why nobody raises the questions about why all these sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, dads and moms–all these best of friends–had to die in those wars.

So why can’t we ask if these wars were right or wrong, worth the terrible sacrifices, or what we have learned from the wars? What was gained or lost? Who decided to go to war? And why do their families often bear the least consequences for the war decisions?

These are very hard questions, and people get angry when they are raised as some already are in reading this. Some will say it disrespects those who have suffered and died. But to raise the hard questions of why wars were decided and who decided them is actually a way to respect those who paid such a heavy price and perhaps would prevent more such horrible human costs.

I almost never hear veterans speak about the merits of their war, or its cause or purpose, or the strategies and ideologies behind the decisions to go to war. They talk about their friends, their brothers and sisters, their “family” who they lost on the battlefield. And the families of lost servicemen and women talk about how their loss was so devastating and life-changing. Hardly any of the Memorial Day testimonies are to the war; they are to the war victims.

The war in my youth was the Vietnam War and I still hardly ever go to the Vietnam Memorial. The few times I’ve gone there, I felt enormous pain. My generation’s names are etched on that long black wall, and when I read and touch them I feel overwhelmed with grief.

The Vietnam War was based on lies and was exposed as a political and moral mistake, but went on even after we knew it was wrong and destined for disaster. Vietnam’s American casualties were disproportionately lower-income and racial minorities. This war sank into tactics that killed many innocents while damaging the souls of our own soldiers. Vietnam violated our nation’s best values and religious convictions, but even then many were angry when leaders like Dr. King asked hard questions about war.

Iraq was another war based on lies, and morally compounded by being a war over oil. Was this a war of necessity or choice? Again, the casualties were significantly lower-income people and racial minorities who volunteered for the military hoping for future opportunities they didn’t have. Only some brave souls questioned why so few were asked to bear the terrible costs while the rest of the nation went on with life as usual. Afghanistan, begun to bring those who attacked us to justice, became the longest war in our history, again without honest answers to what we really have accomplished.

War has become such a business in America, whose beneficiaries are not the people we remember on Memorial Day. The veterans we honored yesterday are not even receiving adequate care when they come home and are being used as political pawns, as the latest Veterans Administration scandal reveals.

As we remember those who died serving our country, Memorial Day should also be a day when we ask the hard questions about our wars, what we have learned, and whether such painful losses are truly worth the terrible cost.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Foreign Policy

Why Obama Is Leaving 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan

Jake Beaudoin, a U.S. Army Private of 82nd Airborne Division, takes cover during a controlled detonation to clear an area for setting up a check point in Zahri district of Kandahar province
Shamil Zhumatov—Reuters

A clean break like the U.S. made from Iraq is tempting. But it's not a risk Obama is ready to take—yet

By choosing to leave almost 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the formal end of American combat operations later this year, President Barack Obama made a choice between two imperatives.

One was to make a clean break with a war that has lasted more than 12 years, costing hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, with inconclusive results. Obama was happy to take that path in Iraq, from which he pulled out the last U.S. soldier in December 2011. (There’s some dispute as to whether Obama preferred to leave a small residual force but was denied by the Iraqi government; suffice to say Obama wasn’t hell-bent on staying.)

The other imperative was to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become like a horror movie killer who springs up the moment the you think he’s dead and turn your back. Afghanistan’s security forces probably aren’t yet ready to defend their government against the Taliban, a weakened but hardly defeated enemy. A residual American force can aid the Afghans with everything from intelligence to logistics to medical assistance. (The Afghans have paltry Medevac capabilities, for instance—hardly a morale booster for their troops.) Obama may rightfully doubt that maintaining tens of thousands of U.S. forces can remake Afghanistan into a tidy success story. But neither does he want to preside over a slide back into a 1990s-style civil war.

That civil war, of course, produced a Taliban government which harbored al-Qaeda and made the Sept, 11, 2001 terror attacks possible—the reason we invaded Afghanistan in the first place. Obama never promised to make Afghanistan a functioning democracy, or even to defeat the Taliban. His repeated vow has been to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda” in the region and prevent the terror group’s ability to threaten the U.S. and its allies. A residual U.S. force in Afghanistan will be crucial to achieving that goal.

Even with most al-Qaeda figures killed or driven from the country, a senior U.S. official told TIME in December, “it’s likely there would be some residual al-Qaeda or or related affiliates that persist beyond [the end of 2014]. And we would retain the requirement to disrupt any threats. The preferred way for us to do that is in a partnership with the Afghans.”

Americans are much more able to conduct counterterrorism operations than the Afghan security forces. Perhaps just as important, the residual U.S. troops will be right across the border from Pakistan’s notorious tribal areas, where the most dangerous al-Qaeda-affiliated operatives are still based. Since the U.S. has no military presence in Pakistan, the ability to continue drone missions from Afghanistan will be enormously valuable.

A continued U.S. presence will also have symbolic and diplomatic value, as the former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, told TIME in February. At a moment when there was talk of a residual force numbering in the very low thousands—or even none at all, given that Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a post-2014 military agreement with the U.S. (his successor is expected to do so)—Crocker said a robust American force was a valuable way of “signaling to friends and foes alike that we’re in this for the long run” in a region that America has abandoned before.

But wait: Obama is also announcing that all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016. That would seem to undermine the message of support and engagement—and risk allowing al-Qaeda and the Taliban to bide their time for just a bit longer, right?

Possibly. But it’s also possible that that America’s troop presence could be extended by a future agreement in the final days of Obama’s term, especially if the Afghan government feels vulnerable and Washington sees signs of a local al-Qaeda resurgence.

An Iraq-style clean break from Afghanistan may be tempting. But recent history suggests it’s risky.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘Time to Turn The Page’ on Afghanistan War

President Obama Announces Plan For Pullout From Afghanistan By End Of 2016
President Barack Obama speaks about the military troop pullout from Afghanistan at the White House on May 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The troops staying will focus on counterterrorism and training. A complete withdrawal will be completed in 2016, 15 years after the war began.

Updated 3:14 p.m. E.T.

President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday to leave a force of 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan after this year and withdraw all American troops by the end of 2016, as he winds down the nation’s longest war.

“The bottom line is, it’s time to turn the page on a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Obama said at the White House.

Coming on the heels of a Memorial Day weekend trip to visit troops in Afghanistan, and a day before a major foreign policy address at West Point, Obama’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise. Pentagon officials had recommended to the President either a force of this size or a full withdrawal at the end of the year.

“I think Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them,” Obama said, hinting at his broader foreign policy philosophy set to be outlined Wednesday. “Yet 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.

The remaining forces will have a pared back mission focused on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces. Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement, which would provide legal protections for U.S. troops and is viewed as a prerequisite for any lingering American troop presence, but both of the candidates to replace him have pledged to sign the agreement if they take office.

“We have struck significant blows against al-Qaeda’s leadership, we have eliminated Osama bin Laden, and we have prevented Afghanistan from being used for attacks against our homeland,” Obama said. “Now we’re finishing the job we started.”

Addressing critics who assert the U.S. withdrawal timetable is too aggressive, Obama said, “We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it’s not the U.S.’s responsibility to make it one.”

Speaking from the Rose Garden, Obama told reporters that U.S. troops won’t stay in the country without a Bilateral Security Agreement. On a call with reporters, a senior administration official defended Obama’s decision to announce a firm timeline for withdrawal, saying it is important to set a schedule for troop drawdowns for planning with allies and the Afghan government.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, Obama said that, “By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end.”

Ending the U.S. troop presence would fulfill Obama’s pledge when he took office to end the war. In 2009, he ordered a 30,000 troop “surge” to help bring stability to the war-torn country, while enacting a plan to gradually turn over security responsibilities to Afghan forces. As of this month there are roughly 32,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.


White House Accidentally Reveals Name of CIA Chief in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama gestures while speaking to troops at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan, during an unannounced visit, May 25, 2014.
President Barack Obama gestures while speaking to troops at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan, during an unannounced visit, May 25, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

The White House issued a corrected list of officials, without the name of the CIA officer, but only after the initial list had been distributed to more than 6,000 people

The White House inadvertently revealed the name of the top CIA officer in Afghanistan when it provided reporters with a list of officials participating in President Barack Obama’s surprise Memorial weekend visit to troops.

In a press list of 15 officials circulated to up to 6,000 recipients, including TIME reporters, one name appeared next to the title Chief of Station, the title of the top CIA officer in a country. The White House, which received the list from military officials, soon realized the mistake and issued a revised copy without the name.

TIME is withholding his name after Obama officials cautioned The Washington Post, which first reported on the snafu, that the officer and his family could be at risk if his name were published. Given the officer’s prominent role, his identity is probably known by the top echelons of the Afghan government, so it’s still unclear if he will be pulled out of the country, the Post reports.

The CIA and the White House declined to comment to the Washington Post.


TIME White House

Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

President Barack Obama gestures while speaking to troops at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan, during an unannounced visit, May 25, 2014.
President Barack Obama gestures while speaking to troops at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan, during an unannounced visit, May 25, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

The President touched down in Afghanistan on Sunday on his first visit to the country in two years, to meet with troops, civilians and military leaders to discuss the country's future

President Barack Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday — his first visit to Afghanistan in two years and his fourth trip as President overall — and pledged a “responsible end” to the war there by the end of 2014.

During the visit, Obama spoke to troops, visited a base hospital and met with military officials to discuss troop presence in Afghanistan as the country’s longest war comes to a close. Country singer Brad Paisley flew with Obama on Air Force One to perform for the troops.

“I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d stop by,” Obama said. “I’m here on a single mission and that’s to say thank you for your extraordinary service … I’m also here representing 300 million Americans who want to say thank you as well.”

The President called it a “pivotal moment” for the war in Afghanistan, with U.S. forces preparing to end their combat role by the end of the year as Afghan forces take the lead in securing the country’s safety. “By the end of this year the transition will be complete … and our combat mission will be over,” said Obama, to some of the loudest applause of the speech. “America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”

He ended his remarks with a promise to shake every hand in the room. “Though I may not be able to take a selfie with everybody,” he added.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser for strategic communications, said the Obama Administration felt the Memorial Day weekend trip was “an opportunity for the President to thank American troops and civilians for their service.”

There are no meetings scheduled with Afghanistan’s outgoing President Hamid Karzai or either of the leading candidates in the country’s ongoing presidential election. A White House official said the Administration had invited Karzai to attend the President’s visit, but it hadn’t worked out due to the last-minute timing. “The President will likely be speaking by phone with President Karzai in the days to come, and also looks forward to working with Afghanistan’s next President after the election is complete,” said the official.

Afghanistan’s two runoff presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have both said they would support a bilateral agreement allowing some U.S. soldiers to stay — an agreement Karzai opposes. Obama said on Sunday he was “hopeful” he would be able to sign an agreement with Afghanistan’s next President that would keep a limited military presence there after 2014.

“We want to make sure Afghanistan can never be used ever again to launch an attack against our country,” he said.

— With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

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