Barack Obama scales back US withdrawal from Afghanistan

President says 8,400 troops will remain on active duty to help government fight Taliban

US president Barack Obama,  secretary of defense Ashton Carter and   Gen Joseph Dunford: The proposed contingent of 8,400 is down slightly from the current number but well up from the 5,500 he announced previously. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

US president Barack Obama, secretary of defense Ashton Carter and Gen Joseph Dunford: The proposed contingent of 8,400 is down slightly from the current number but well up from the 5,500 he announced previously. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

 

US president Barack Obama has said America will leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan when he completes his term.

The figure is down slightly from the current number but well up from the 5,500 he announced previously.

He argued that America’s interests depend on helping Afghanistan’s struggling government fight continuing threats from the Taliban and others.

In a statement at the White House, Mr Obama said he was acting after receiving recommendations from top military leaders who urged him to revise his earlier plan.

He said boosting the planned troop numbers from the previous planned level would help allies prepare their own contribution to the fight.

It would also help the next president make decisions about the future of US involvement in the country where the US has been fighting since 2001.

“The decision I’m making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for progress in Afghanistan, as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves,” said Mr Obama.

He added: “l firmly believe the decision I’m announcing is the right thing to do.”

The numbers reflect a compromise between Mr Obama’s original plan and what many military commanders had recommended.

The president had planned to drop troop levels from the current 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of 2016 but a Taliban resurgence led Washington to rethink its exit strategy.

He said the US mission would remain narrowly focused on “training and advising” Afghan forces and supporting counter-terrorism operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda, the group that attacked the US on September 11th 2001.

“We are no longer engaged in a major ground war in Afghanistan,” he said.

Limited missions

Mr Obama made the announcement alongside defence secretary Ash Carter and the joint chiefs of staff chairman, Gen Joseph Dunford.

Last month a group of more than a dozen former US ambassadors and former commanders of US forces in Afghanistan wrote to Mr Obama urging him to keep up the current level of US troops through the rest of his term.

They included Gen John F Campbell, who had been the top US commander in Kabul until four months ago, and retired Gen David Petraeus.

“Unless emergency conditions require consideration of a modest increase, we would strongly favour a freeze at the level of roughly 10,000 US troops through January 30,” they wrote in letter.

“This approach would allow your successor to assess for herself or himself and make further adjustments accordingly.”

Mr Obama’s announcement will help shape his legacy.

A president who came into office promising to end the wars he inherited, he has instead found himself wrestling with continued conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as new conflicts in Syria and Libya.

– (AP)