MADISON (WKOW) -- President Barack Obama announced Tuesday the U.S. would seek to keep 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan past the end of the year.
Obama had previously threatened to pull all U.S. troops out of the country if the Afghan government does not agree to sign a bilateral security agreement. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign. But the country will hold presidential elections next month and both leading candidates have expressed support for the agreement.
Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos said he's not in favor of the President's announced timeline for troop withdrawal. Scocos said it would have been a better move to keep the withdrawal dates confidential among the U.S. and its allies.
"You have American lives on the line," Scocos said. "I think any move we make should be one we do on our own."
Scocos added he does support the extended troop presence in Afghanistan.
"From a strategic point of view to help transition (the Afghan Government) and also protect American resources there, I think it's a good move," he said.
Scocos said it remains to be seen whether the 9,800 troops the President is hoping will stay in Afghanistan are enough to protect American interests. He noted even the current, 32-thousand troops there have a hard time covering a country spread out over such a vast chunk of land.
If a bilateral security agreement is signed and 9,800 American soldiers remain, roughly 22-thousand would be returning home soon. That could mean an influx of claims at the Dane County Veterans Service Office.
"Those 22-thousand troops will be spread throughout the U.S. of course," said Veterans Service Officer Daniel Connery.
Connery, a veteran himself, said the office provides free help to veterans seeking to claim benefits like disability, healthcare and education. It's funded primarily with county, taxpayer money.
Connery said there are currently 30-thousand veterans in Dane County.
"Presumably many of those (22-thousand) troops will be transitioning out of the military," Connery said. "As they transition into civilian life they'll need healthcare, they'll be looking to acquire education."
Connery said troops returning from overseas often need more help applying for benefits than National Guard Troops and those stationed throughout the U.S. He said troops stationed on American soil tend to be more cognizant of the benefits available to them.
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