9,800 troops to stay till next year, 5,500 beyond: Obama
Speaking at a White House press conference, the president said he had also decided to keep 5,500 troops in Kabul and a few bases, including those at Bagram, Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south during the same timeframe.
“Their mission will not change. Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier: training Afghan forces and going after Al Qaida,” Obama said.
He said he had decided instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, they would maintain 5,500 troops.
“Again, the mission will not change. Our troops will focus on training Afghans and counterterrorism operations, but these bases will give us the presence and the reach our forces require to achieve their mission,” he said,arguing his decision was based on ground realities in Afghanistan.
“Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. They are developing critical capabilities, intelligence, logistics, aviation, command and control. And meanwhile, the Taliban have made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still deadly launch attacks in cities, including Kabul,” he said.
The announcement comes days after Taliban militants briefly overrun the northern city of Kunduz and were driven as a result of US airstrikes and a ground offensive by Afghan security forces.
“Much of this was predictable; we understood that as we transitioned, that the Taliban would try to exploit some of our movements out of particular areas and that it would take time for Afghan Security Forces to strengthen,” Obama said.
He said pressure from Pakistan had resulted into more Al Qaida coming into Afghanistan. “We have seen the emergence of an ISIL presence. The bottom line is, in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile. And in some places there is risk of deterioration,” said the US president.
Obama said President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah and their national unity government supported a strong partnership with the United States.
“Following consultations with my entire national security team, as well as our international partners and members of Congress, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, I am therefore announcing the following steps, which I am convinced offer the best possibility for a lasting progress in Afghanistan,” he said.
The US, he said, will work with allies and partners to align the steps with their own presence in Afghanistan after 2016. “In Afghanistan, we are part of a 42-nation coalition and our NATO allies and partners can continue to play an indispensable role in helping Afghanistan strengthen its security forces, including respect for human rights,” he said.
“And finally, because governance and development remain the foundation for stability and progress in Afghanistan, we will continue to support President Ghani and the national unity government as they pursue critical reforms.”
Obama said new provincial governors had been appointed and President Ghani was working to combat corruption, strengthen institutions and uphold rule of law.
“As I told President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah yesterday, efforts that deliver progress and justice for the Afghan people will continue to have the strong support of the United States.”
To a question, Obama said he was not disappointed. “This decision is not disappointing. Continually, my goal has been to make sure that we give every opportunity for Afghanistan to succeed while we are still making sure that we're meeting our core missions,” he said.
“As I have continually said, my approach is to assess the situation on the ground, to figure out what is working, and figure out what is not working, and make adjustments where necessary.”
The US president also said that he would urge Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and all parties in the region "to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve".
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