The U.S. will keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of Obama's term, changing course from a plan to drop that number to 5,500 by the end of the year.
WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. will keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2016, changing course from a plan to drop that number to 5,500 before his successor enters office and takes the reins of the nation’s longest running war.
Obama’s decision marks the second time in a year that he has changed course from a scheduled force drawdown, deciding last fall to scrap plans to reduce the U.S. presence to 1,000 troops stationed at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
The U.S. currently has 9,800 troops operating in Afghanistan in two missions. About 1,000 of them are involved in a U.S.-only counter-terrorism mission that targets al Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated forces. The remaining troops are operating in a larger NATO mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, who took over combat operations in 2014.
The troops will be spread proportionally under 8,400 count, according to a senior White House official.
“The narrow missions assigned to our forces will not change,” Obama said from the White House, standing beside Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joesph Dunford. “They remain focused on supporting Afghan forces in going after terrorists, but maintaining our forces at this specific level, based on our assessment of the security conditions and the strengths of Afghan forces, will allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve.”
The Afghan security forces have made strides in the two years since taking the lead on their security, Obama said, though they still need to develop additional capabilities and the “security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious.”
“We have to deal with the realities of the world as it is. We can’t forget what’s at stake in Afghanistan. This is where al Qaeda is trying to regroup, this is where ISIL continues to try to expand its presence,” Obama said, using the government’s preferred acronym for ISIS.
And, the Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since they were ousted from power by a U.S.-led intervention in 2001.
Last month, Obama expanded what U.S. troops are allowed to do in Afghanistan, giving them the authority accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field, rather than only special operators, and proactively provide close air support to strike Taliban targets, a change from a mission where the U.S. could only strike in support of Afghan forces in extreme situations “to prevent the overrun of terrain.”
In May, the Obama administration killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, by airstrike while he was in Pakistan — having unclear effects on stalled peace talks between the insurgency and internationally recognized government.
“Afghanistan is not a perfect place. It remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It is going to continue to take time for them to build up military capacity that we sometimes take for granted,” Obama said.
“And given the enormous challenges they face, the Afghan people will need the partnership of the world, led by the United States, for many years to come.”
Obama said the decision to leave more troops in Afghanistan was reached in consultation with his military and national security advisers, members of Congress and Afghan leaders.
The President is set to participate in the NATO Warsaw Summit from July 8 to 9, where other nations comprising NATO’s Resolute Support mission will pledge any monetary and personnel commitments to Afghanistan’s security moving forward. There are about 6,000 troops from NATO member states other than the U.S. currently serving in Resolute Support.
U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan for over 14 years, since the U.S. invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The U.S.-led intervention toppled the Taliban government, which harbored al Qaeda, the architects of the attacks.
At the height of American involvement, in 2011, the U.S had 101,000 troops in the country.