Military personnel in Oklahoma say the president's announcement of a drawdown of nearly half the force in Afghanistan won't change any current orders given to soldiers there from the state.
President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union speech Tuesday that 34,000 troops would be coming home from Afghanistan in the next year. Security responsibility is set to be handed over to Afghan troops by the end of 2014.
Fewer Oklahomans are stationed in Afghanistan than were in 2011 and 2012: The Oklahoma National Guard now has fewer than 500 troops there compared to 2011 and 2012 when nearly 3,000 soldiers were on the ground.
Less than 50 soldiers are there from Tinker Air Force Base, and about 1,300 are there from Fort Sill, military officials said.
Maj. Geoff Legler, with the Oklahoma National Guard, said the announcement is a first step, but how the drawdown will be implemented is unknown.
“As of today the announcement has no current effect on our operations,” Legler said.
“It's extremely hard to say what will happen.”
Much will depend on the situation in Afghanistan and when the Department of Defense officially ends combat operations there, he said.
Legler said troops continued to deploy to the Middle East even after the combat mission in Iraq ended in December 2011.
Maj. Lindy White, a public affairs officer for the Oklahoma National Guard, was deployed to Afghanistan with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2004 and in 2011. During the 2004 deployment she witnessed the election and inauguration of President Hamid Karzai.
“We were able to see a whole province transition back to Afghan control,” White said. “People can predict and speculate all they want to about what will happen in the future, but there was progress made while we were there.”
About 3,000 soldiers with the 45th combat team were deployed in summer 2011 for a nine-month stay in Afghanistan and Kuwait during one of the largest and deadliest deployments in the history of the Oklahoma National Guard. Fourteen Oklahoma National Guard soldiers were killed during the deployment.
“It was a tough deployment for a lot of soldiers,” White said. “Continue to pray for those soldiers and for those families.”
Units with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were tasked with training Afghan National Army soldiers, security and other missions while White was there.
“We've been able to see the Army grow there, but we hope for the best as they continue forward,” she said.
“Kudos to our men who've been a part of that, especially to our Oklahoma soldiers who've been able to do that.”
Fort Sill spokeswoman Nancy Elliott said that even though large numbers of soldiers are not expected to deploy, some troops likely will continue to go there.
“As a country we're still deploying to Afghanistan,” she said.
“Even though 34,000 are coming home, there are a lot of things that factor into who stays and who goes ... It depends on the political climate at home and the climate on the ground.”