US to maintain troops in Afghanistan – Barack Obama
President Barack Obama said on Thursday Afghan troops were still not as strong as they needed to be as he announced his decision to maintain 9,800 U.S. troops in the country through most of next year.
“I believe this mission is vital to our national security interests in preventing terrorist attacks against our citizens and our nation,” Obama said at the White House, flanked by his Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, and Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama said the decision should show the Taliban that the only way to achieve a full drawdown of U.S. troops was to reach a settlement with the Afghan government.
He had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before leaving office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and based at four locations – Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
Obama said his decision followed months of deliberations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Pentagon officials, field commanders and White House advisers about how best to support Afghan forces.
“Maintaining our current posture through most of next year rather than a more rapid draw down will allow us to sustain our efforts to train and assist Afghan forces as they grow stronger, not only during this fighting season but into the next one,” he said.
The decision also comes amid gains by Taliban militants, a point Obama acknowledged as he said they are still capable of launching deadly attacks on cities including Kabul.
“The bottom line is, in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places, there’s risk of deterioration,” he said.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission after 13 years of war at the end of 2014, and Afghan troops have since been in charge of the nation’s security, with help from U.S. and NATO troops.
But Afghan forces have struggled in assaults from Taliban militants, who briefly took over the northern city of Kunduz.
The U.S. troops will continue in their role of training and advising Afghan forces, and also in ensuring that any remnants of al Qaeda are prevented from posing a threat to U.S. security, Obama said. They will not be engaged in combat missions, he said.
Obama’s foreign policy has become an issue among candidates running for the White House in the November 2016 election.
Jeb Bush, one of a large array of Republican candidates, welcomed the move but said Obama should listen to his military commanders about further steps.
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