President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the United States will maintain its current troop level of 9,800 in Afghanistan until the end of 2015, granting the visiting Aghan President Ashraf Ghani additional flexibility as he seeks to put down a deadly Taliban insurgency.
The announcement came as Obama hosted on Tuesday for the first time Afghanistan's new president, who had requested the United States delay withdrawing its troops from the war-torn country.
The US had earlier planned to withdraw about 5,000 troops from Afghanistan this year.
"President Ghani had requested some flexibility on our drawdown timelines," Obama said at a joint press conference held after the two leaders met. The decision to maintain troop levels "reflects our reinvigorated partnership with Afghanistan," Obama said.
Ghani took office six months ago following a disputed election riddled with charges of corruption. Afghan forces battling Taliban militants will now have additional US support for the upcoming fighting season, which lasts from April to October.
"The flexibility that has been provided for 2015 will be used to accelerate reforms to ensure that Afghan national security forces are much better led, equipped, trained and focused on their fundamental mission," Ghani said.
Obama reiterated that the overall timeline for the complete withdrawal of US troops has not changed from the goal of 2017, but he added that extending US troops levels for a few more months would be "well worth it."
The United States and NATO marked the formal end of the war in Afghanistan in December, but the Taliban insurgency is still relentlessly deadly.
Last years April-October fighting season was one of the bloodiest on record, and the Taliban insurgency has caused more than 10,000 casualties in 2014 alone.
Early on Tuesday, gunmen killed at least 13 bus passengers on a highway in Afghanistan's Wardak province.
bw/rc (AFP, Reuters)