US to hold off on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

2015-10-15 18:34
President Barack Obama announces that US troops are to remain in Afghanistan.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

President Barack Obama announces that US troops are to remain in Afghanistan.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

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Washington - The US will extend its military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday in a major policy shift from the planned withdrawal of most troops.

Obama said the slower drawdown will provide the best chance to achieve lasting progress amid a security situation that is "still very fragile and in some places there's risk of deterioration".

The US will maintain 9 800 troops in the country through most of next year, and beginning in 2017 will maintain 5 500 forces at several bases in the war-torn country, including Bagram, Jalalabad in the east and Kandahar in the south.

Obama stressed the mission will still be focussed on training Afghan forces and counter-terrorism operations and called the move a "modest but meaningful extension".

"I do not support the idea of endless war," he said. "Yet, given what's at stake in Afghanistan and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, and the fact that we have an international coalition, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort."

Obama had previously aimed for only a small military presence of around 1 000 troops based at the US embassy in Afghanistan by the end of next year.

The move demonstrated the ongoing US commitment to Afghanistan even after the conclusion of formal combat operations and reflected US confidence in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his government, Obama said.

Obama spoke with Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday to tell them of his decision and also to discuss the need for good governance and an Afghan-led reconciliation process with the Taliban.

The decision is seen as a concession that Afghanistan has not been able to stabilise its security situation in the face of the Taliban, forcing Obama to reverse his plan to withdraw most US forces by the end of his term and end America's longest war.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Obama's announcement, saying in a statement that it "paves the way for a sustained presence by Nato allies and partners in Afghanistan".

The alliance will take "key decisions" about the scope of its Afghan mission in the coming weeks, he added.

The move to extend US presence in Afghanistan follows the Taliban's siege of the key northern city of Kunduz on September 28, which represented the group's biggest victory since its removal from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

The Nato combat mission in Afghanistan ended in December, but nearly 10 000 US troops remain, including some 6 800 in the Nato support mission, along with others engaged in US-specific missions such as counter-terrorism.

Read more on:    taliban  |  nato  |  us  |  afghanistan

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