WASHINGTON: The United States will slow its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and keep its current 9,800-strong force there until the end of the year, but still end the mission as planned in 2016, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
At a joint White House news conference with his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani, Obama said Kabul had asked Washington to allow for more flexibility in its planned withdrawal.
A joint statement issued by the two governments said: “Based on President Ghani’s request for flexibility in the US drawdown timeline, the US will maintain its current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of 2015.
“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.”
Obama acknowledged that Afghanistan remains a “dangerous place,” but insisted the decision to maintain higher troop numbers for longer was not a change in his policy of ending America’s frontline involvement soon.
“I think it’s important to remember the timeline for our withdrawal down to an embassy centered presence, a normalization of our presence in Afghanistan remains the end of 2016,” he said.
“So that hasn’t changed. Our transition out of a combat role has not changed.”
Both leaders said Afghan government forces had taken the lead in battling Taliban forces and would continue to be built up with US support as American troops withdraw.