US President Barack Obama announced the extension of the current presence of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan into 2016, with a drawdown to 5,500 through the end of his term in 2017. The announcement is contrary to the administration’s earlier plans to withdraw the majority of US military forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2017, leaving only “normal,” embassy-based military presence.
The President asserted that the troops in Afghanistan will continue to focus on their current two aims, training Afghanistan forces and targeting Al-Qaeda, pursuing a policy focused on counter-terrorism operations. The decision follows months of deliberation between US and Afghan officials and military personnel. Conditions on the ground have changed substantially since the administration set the 2017 withdraw deadline over two years ago. A recent resurgence of Taliban activity, including its retaking of the northern provincial capital Kunduz earlier this month, has prompted growing international concern about the preparedness of Afghan forces to ensure the country’s security. Afghan President Asraf Ghani welcomed the news, saying that the extension will provide much-needed help to domestic security forces. Other Afghan officials added that the US has a responsibility to help build economic infrastructure, while Obama mentioned the need for developing better governance as a long-term solution. A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that only 10% of the economy of Afghanistan is legitimate, with black market business interests having taken advantage of improperly distributed foreign aid.
Observers note that Obama’s decision will extend US troop presence in Afghanistan into the next presidential term, likely politicizing the issue for the upcoming Presidential 2016 elections. Obama apologized last week for an October 3 strike on a Doctors without Borders hospital in Kunduz during the Taliban advance. The Swiss foreign ministry has announced that an international panel of experts awaits approval from the US and Afghan governments to being investigation of the strike. In 2011, the administration fulfilled the president’s promise to withdraw troops from Iraq. Yet due to the current security situation in the Middle East, the Obama administration discussed earlier this year the possibility of redeploying troops to Iraq as well.
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