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Officials: Obama to halt US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Despite promises to end the war on his watch, President Obama is set to announce a slowdown of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thousands of troops will remain in the country when Obama leaves office in 2017.

Although President Barack Obama had originally planned to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan to a small, embassy-based unit by the end of next year, the White House announced that the president was expected to outline a policy change on Thursday morning.

The previously stated timeline, set to make the final withdrawal coincide with Obama's last weeks in office, has long been seen by military leaders as unrealistic given the amount of assistance Afghan forces still need to beat back a resurgent Taliban.

"The narrative that we're leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating," Secretary of Defense Ash Carter during a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army on Wednesday. "We're not, we can't and to do so would not be to take advantage of the success we've had to date."

Fear of 'IS' presence in Afghanistan

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Obama administration officials told the press that the new plan was to maintain the current force of 9,800 through most of 2016 before winding that number down to 5,500 the following year.

While hints of a policy shift have been circulating in Washington for weeks, the recent takeover of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz by Taliban fighters late last month reinforced Obama's decision to reverse course. The fighting around Kunduz resulted in the death of 22 people, including 12 Doctors Without Borders staff, when a US airstrike accidentally hit a hospital in Kunduz instead of a Taliban target.

On top of the recent troubles in Kunduz, security officials are also worried about the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist organization moving into the country and trying to win recruits from within the Taliban.

es/kms (AP, Reuters)

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