President Barack Obama has decided to keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
The original plan was to draw-down its troop numbers from 9,800 to about 1,000 by the end of 2016 but military leaders argued that Afghan National Security and Defense Forces and the country’s security institutions still need U.S. assistance to combat terrorism and maintain security.
But according to senior administration officials, cited by AP, Obama would outline plans to maintain the current force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, then draw down to 5,500 troops in 2017, at a pace still to be determined by commanders.
The officials have talked to AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly ahead of the president’s announcement.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter also said that they are not leaving Afghanistan but an adjustment to the current plan is under consideration.
“The narrative that we’re leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating. We’re not. We can’t, and to do so would not be to take advantage of the success had to date,” Carter said at a luncheon hosted by the Association of the US Army Sustaining.
“It’s not a question of whether, but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan, and last week, it became clear that our NATO allies feel the same way, as they told me. Many of my counterparts made a point of reaffirming their commitment, too,” he said. “When I submit my 2017 budget, I will include critical financial support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to help it sustain its force levels of 352,000 troops in 2017 and beyond.”