Obama to let US troops remain in Afghanistan

Washington, October 15

US President Barack Obama will announce today that thousands of US troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2017, the tough reality of that war-wracked nation scuppering a defining election campaign promise.

Obama will announce that a 9,800-strong US force will be deployed throughout much of next year, effectively bequeathing a vexed 14-year war he inherited from George W Bush to his successor.

Coming to office in 2009, Obama had pledged to end the war that has now has cost over 2,000 US lives and injured and maimed tens of thousands of other people.

But now, by late next year or early 2017 when Obama steps down and the 45th US president is sworn in, troop numbers are expected to be about 5,500, a senior administration official said. America’s “longest war” one prompted by the Taliban refusal to surrender al Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terror attacks will continue.

Under previous plans, the United States would have drawn down its troop numbers by the end of 2016 from about 10,000 currently to about 1,000.

Recent intense fighting has underscored the continued role of American troops in training the still fledgling Afghan forces and in vital counter-terror operations.

Two weeks ago the Taliban scored their biggest military victory since the 2001 US-led invasion, capturing the city of Kunduz.

Only a swift response by US-trained Afghan security forces led to an eventual Taliban retreat.

The administration official said Obama was making his announcement “as a result of an extensive, months-long review, and in consultation with his full national security team and our Afghan partners.”

The 5,500 troops that will remain late next year or in early 2017 will stay at a small number of bases, including at Bagram Airfield Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south.

But the official stressed that the troops would not have a combat role.

“This announcement in no way changes the fact that our combat mission in Afghanistan has ended, and we will continue to undertake only two narrow missions: counter-terrorism and training, advising and assisting our Afghan partners,” the official said.

The NATO coalition said on Tuesday that US and Afghan forces carried out one of their largest joint operations in southern Kandahar province, dismantling a major al-Qaeda sanctuary in the Taliban’s historic heartland.