"Stated U.S. policy is to ensure that Afghanistan will not again become a base for terrorist attacks against the United States. Following policy reviews in 2009, the Obama Administration asserted that it was pursuing a well-resourced and integrated military-civilian strategy intended to pave the way for a gradual transition to Afghan leadership from July 2011 until the end of 2014. To carry out U.S. policy, a total of 51,000 additional U.S. forces were authorized by the two 2009 reviews, which brought U.S. troop numbers to a high of about 99,000, with partner forces adding about 42,000. On June 22, 2011, President Obama announced that the policy had accomplished most major U.S. goals and that a drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops would take place by September 2012. The first 10,000 of these are to be withdrawn by the end of 2011. The transition to Afghan leadership began, as planned, in July 2011 in the first set of areas, four cities and three full provinces. The death of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on May 1, 2011, has caused some to argue that overarching U.S. goals will not be jeopardized by the U.S. drawdown. However, Al Qaeda has had a minimal presence on the Afghanistan battlefield itself since 2001, and the official U.S. military view is that security gains achieved against mostly Taliban and affiliated Afghan insurgent groups in 2010 remain 'fragile and reversible.' Some believe that a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan conflict would become more likely in the aftermath of bin Laden's death, but the September 20, 2011, assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a key figure in the reconciliation effort, has set back reconciliation efforts significantly. There are major concerns among Afghanistan's minorities and among its women that reconciliation might produce compromises that erode the freedoms enjoyed since 2001. Whether or not some U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014, most experts believe that the key to long term stability is the quality and extent of Afghan governance."
CRS Report for Congress, RL30588