President Barack Obama has announced that US troops will pursue their combat and training roles in Afghanistan through most of 2016. During his electoral campaigns, Obama had promised to end America's "longest war."
Speaking to journalists at the White House on Thursday, Obama outlined four steps in his revised strategy for Afghanistan. "It's the right thing to do," Obama said, adding that "as commander in chief I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again."
First, 9,800 US soldiers in the country would continue to remain there for most of next year. The soldiers would train Afghan forces fighting the Taliban and also engage in combat with al Qaeda, the president said.
The White House had initially envisaged a normal embassy presence for the US and about 1,000 US soldiers by the end of 2016, but the new plan's second strategy involved keeping 5,500 American soldiers well into 2017 in addition to small military bases at Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kunduz.
Third, the US would continue to work with its NATO allies and partners in its war against terrorists in Afghanistan.
Obama's fourth strategy for the country included supporting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his government and ensuring that human rights were respected. Obama also announced a meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Washington next week, where the two leaders would discuss the Kabul government's reconciliation process with the Taliban, which is being mediated by Pakistan.
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the move, saying the continued US presence "paves the way for a sustained presence by NATO allies and partners in Afghanistan."
The US 'keeps commitments'
Addressing the Afghan people towards the end of his speech, Obama said, the "Americans' commitment to you and to a secure, stable Afghanistan remains firm." His country kept its "commitments," Obama said.
Addressing US citizens, he said he did "not support the idea of endless war." Yet, what was at stake at Afghanistan and the fact that the US had its coalition partners in the country made the effort worth it.
Nearly 2,200 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan until now. During his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns, Obama had promised to end the deployment in the Asian country that had begun 14 years ago after the 9/11 attacks in New York. Nearly 100,000 US troops were stationed in Afghanistan at the mission's peak in 2011.
US and International soldiers, including the 6,000 troops that are part of the "Resolute Support" mission, began withdrawing from the country towards the end of last year, but their Afghan counterparts have struggled to keep the Taliban at bay.
Earlier this month, the Taliban briefly took over the Afghan city of Kunduz, their biggest military victory since the US-led invasion in 2001.
mg/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)