In policy reversal, Obama slows pace of US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan

Published: October 15, 2015
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A file photo of US President Obama PHOTO: AFP

A file photo of US President Obama PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will slow the pace of withdrawing US troops, prolonging the 14-year US engagement there and effectively handing off the task of pulling out to his successor.

Calling it a “modest but meaningful” adjustment to winding up the American presence in Afghanistan, Obama said the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016 because Afghan troops are not yet as strong as they need to be.

“If they were to fail, it would endanger the security of us all,” Obama said, flanked by his Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, and Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small US-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before leaving office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and based at four locations – Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

Asked by a reporter at the end of his statement if he was disappointed in having to make the decision, Obama said he was not. He added, “This isn’t the first time those adjustments have been made. This probably won’t be the last,” he said. “I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president.”

Obama said his decision followed months of deliberations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Pentagon officials, field commanders and White House advisers about how best to support Afghan forces.

The decision also comes amid gains by Taliban militants, a point Obama acknowledged as he said they are still capable of launching deadly attacks on cities including Kabul.

The US-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission after 13 years of war at the end of 2014, and Afghan troops have since been in charge of the nation’s security, with help from US and NATO troops.

Read: More troops may be needed in Afghanistan post-2016: US commander

But Afghan forces have struggled in assaults from Taliban militants, who briefly took over the northern city of Kunduz.

President Barack Obama makes a statement in the Rosevelt Room of the White House October 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

The US troops will continue in their role of training and advising Afghan forces, and also in ensuring that any remnants of al Qaeda are prevented from posing a threat to US security, Obama said. They will not be engaged in combat missions, he said.

Obama’s foreign policy has become an issue among candidates running for the White House in the November 2016 election.

Jeb Bush, one of a large array of Republican candidates, welcomed the move but said Obama should listen to his military commanders about further steps.

“While I am glad President Obama has dropped his plan to abandon the region entirely, if he is truly committed to fighting terrorism and securing a stable Afghanistan, he shouldn’t short change what our military commanders have said they need to complete the mission,” Bush said in a statement.

Read: US not leaving Afghanistan, says Pentagon

Discussions with Ghani’s government

US military and administration officials have been discussing a slower timetable since the March visit to the White House of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Obama spoke to the leaders on Wednesday, he said.

Ghani has been more supportive of the US presence than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. Obama stressed that he viewed Washington as having a solid partner in the Afghan president.

Keeping 5,500 troops at four locations will cost about $14.6 billion per year, up from the estimated cost of $10 billion to keep a consolidated force at the Kabul embassy, officials said.

Obama said he would work with NATO allies, who also have indicated some interest in sustaining their presence. There are more than 6,000 non-U.S. forces in Afghanistan as part of the “Resolute Support” mission.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, sent a US-led force into Afghanistan soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, aiming to destroy al Qaeda and to oust the then-ruling Taliban that had sheltered the militant group.

The foreign ministry of Russia, which was engaged in a nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said on Thursday it doubted the US decision would ease the situation in the country, RIA news agency reported. Washington has been critical of Russia’s move to engage militarily to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s four-year civil war.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Stranger
    Oct 15, 2015 - 4:30PM

    Awww Geez they will be back like they came back to Iraq. They are just playing hide and seek .Recommend

  • Aly Shah
    Oct 15, 2015 - 5:23PM

    $14.6b for 5500 troops annually, with the cost of 2.26m per person. What will they be using all that money for? While Pakistan army is getting a measly amount of $500m in aid for counter-terrorist operation, using a force of more then 180,000 troops.

    Food for thought.Recommend

  • History
    Oct 15, 2015 - 7:06PM

    I heard Afghanistan was a graveyard of empires. Seems like USA is still going strong.Recommend

  • salman
    Oct 15, 2015 - 8:26PM

    Good.More money for Pakistan.Recommend

  • ShamelessPakistanis
    Oct 15, 2015 - 9:32PM

    Ex Cia contractor says 9/11 was the biggest lie told.

    Please Tribune let this be posted. There is nothing offensive in my comment.

    The September 11, 2001 incident in the United States is one of the biggest lies that have been told to the American people, a former CIA contractor says.Recommend

  • Ozair
    Oct 15, 2015 - 10:55PM

    If the same news was about PTI , ET headline would me “In a U-turn, US slows pace of withdrawal”Recommend

  • abhi
    Oct 15, 2015 - 11:16PM

    All dreams of mr Sharif & Sharif are broken.Recommend

  • Oct 16, 2015 - 12:39AM

    The guy has no job for them backhome.. Withdrawl means an increse in .unemployment statistics.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Oct 16, 2015 - 4:32AM

    Americans have learnt lesson from its Iraq experience where they handed over complete control of a country to Shia gangs and Iran which resulted in emergence of ISIS. Recommend

  • Chaiman Wow
    Oct 16, 2015 - 6:58AM

    We should stop publish US propaganda. They are leaving for ten years from Afghanistan and Iraq. Every time they throw some crumbs and we start wagging our tails.Recommend

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