President Obama has announced that more US troops will remain in Afghanistan than planned in light of the war-torn country's "precarious" security situation. He said his decision would help the next US president.
"Instead of going down to 5,500 troops by the end of this year, the United States will maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into next year through the end of my administration," President Barack Obama told a news conference on Wednesday.
"The decision I am making today ensures 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 added.
Obama said he made the decision after receiving recommendations from his country's military commanders, who urged him to revise his earlier plans.
Surge in violence
Last week, a deadly Taliban attack in Kabul killed more than 20 police cadets. The militant group has sustained its violent momentum since losing its leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in May.
Meanwhile, militant group "Islamic State" (IS) is also expanding its activities in Afghanistan. According to media reports, hundreds of people in the eastern province of Nangarhar have been displaced after days of heavy fighting between IS jihadists and government troops.
The surge in Afghan violence has led Washington to rethink its exit strategy. President Obama had earlier planned to drop troop levels from the current 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of the year.
The US president insisted Wednesday the 8,400 troops would not engage in combat mission and would focus on "training and advising" the Afghan forces only.
"We are no longer engaged in a major ground war in Afghanistan," he said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Obama's decision. Haroon Chankhansuri, Ghani's spokesman in Kabul, called the announcement "a sign of continued partnership between our nations to fight our common enemy and strengthen regional stability."
But the Taliban said the US decision would only prolong the war.
"What Obama could not do with 149,000 troops, he will not be able to do with 8,400 troops," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on Twitter. "Our resolve is high and our determination is firm."
shs/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)