WASHINGTON: The US President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced that 8,400 American troops would remain in Afghanistan till the end of his administration in January 2017 as against 5,500 decided earlier.
“Instead of going down to 5500 troops by the end of this year, the United States will maintain approximately 8400 troops in Afghanistan into next year through the end of my administration,” Obama said at a White House announcement on the eve of his Europe departure to attend the NATO Summit.
The US Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford standing by his side when Obama made his announcement. This is based on ground realities, he said.
“The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be. With our help, they’re still working to improve critical capabilities, such as intelligence, logistics, aviation and command and control,” he said.
At the same time, the Taliban remained a threat. They gained ground in some cases. They’ve continued attacks and suicide bombings, including in Kabul. Because the Taliban deliberately target innocent civilians, more Afghan men, women and children were killed and often overlooked in the global refugee crisis, he added.
Millions of Afghans fled their homes and many had been fleeing their country. “As president and commander and chief, I’ve made it clear that I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again,” he said.
“That’s why I constantly review our strategy with my national security team, including our commanders in Afghanistan. In all these reviews we’re guided by the facts, what’s happening on the ground, to determine what’s working and what needs to be changed,” the President said.
At the same time, he said the narrow missions assigned to US forces in Afghanistan will not change. They remained focused on supporting Afghan forces and going after terrorists. “But maintaining our forces at this specific level, based on our assessment of the security conditions and the strength of Afghan forces, will allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve,” he said.
From coalition bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar, the US would be able to continue supporting Afghan forces on the ground and in the air and we continue supporting critical counterterrorism operations, he said.
He insisted that the only way to end this conflict and to achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“That’s the only way. That is why the United States will continue to strongly support an Afghan-led reconciliation process and why we call on all countries in the region to end safe havens for militants and terrorists,” he said.
Obama said his decision best positions his successor to make future decisions about US presence in Afghanistan. “In January, the next U.S. president will assume the most solemn responsibility of the commander-in-chief, security of the United States and the safety of the American people. The decision I’m making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for continued progress in Afghanistan as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves,” he said.
Afghanistan is not a perfect place, he noted, adding that it remains one of the poorest countries in the world. “It is going to continue to take time for them to build up military capacity that we sometimes take for granted. And given the enormous challenges they face, the Afghan people will need the partnership of the world, led by the United States, for many years to come,” he said.
“But with our support, Afghanistan is a better place than it once was. Millions of Afghan children, boys and girls, are in school. Dramatic improvements in public health have saved the lives of mothers and children. Afghans have cast their ballots in democratic elections and seen the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history,” said the US President. -Pajhwok
THE PASHTUN TIMES