Barack Obama will keep 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan through 2015, after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani requested flexibility in the troops drawdown plan.
The US president was planning to cut the number of troops from the current 9,800 to 5,000 by the end of the year, withdrawing completely by the end of 2016. There are also 3,000 troops from other NATO countries.
“The specific trajectory of the 2016 US troop drawdown will be established later in 2015 to enable the US troop consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence by the end of 2016,” the White House statement said.
Obama explained that the date of the final drawdown of US forces – the end of 2016 – remained unchanged, and that the delay of a few months “during this fighting season” was “well worth it” in terms of preparing Afghan security forces for effective operations.
Afghanistan would remain a dangerous place until Afghan security forces are able to maintain security in the country on their own, Obama said. With the departure of US and Coalition troops, those forces have “stepped up” and discovered that “when they fight, they can be successful.”
“We are very much invested in your success,” Obama added.
The US forces ordered to stay in Afghanistan longer would be fighting “on behalf of our freedom and on behalf of a more orderly world,” Obama said. “Our commitment to the Afghanistan people will endure.”
“We are bound by common interests and will act together to ensure both the safety of United States and the safety of Afghanistan. That is the important consideration. Numbers are a means; they are not an end in themselves,” Obama said.
President Ghani “paid tribute” to Americans who died in Afghanistan, and the families all who served. The departure of over 100,000 foreign forces did not bring about the collapse that was predicted, Ghani said, and the US “train, advise and assist mission” remained a “vital part” of US and Afghan interests.
Because of the US engagement in Afghanistan, Ghani said, there had not been terrorist attacks on the US mainland. Continued US commitment to the battle in Afghanistan was required, he argued, because “Fortresses cannot be built around countries or continents.”
Ghani, in office since September 2014, is currently visiting the US.The Afghan delegation spent all day Monday in meetings with senior US officials, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Washington has pledged to fund Afghan security forces to the tune of $4 billion a year through 2017. The US is eager to show that the new government in Kabul is reliable and competent enough to solve its own problems, while being appreciative of American help.