Obama backtracks, keeps thousands of troops in Afghanistan

July 10, 2016

President Barack Obama, calling Afghanistan's security situation precarious, said on July 6 he would keep US soldier levels in the country at 8400 through the end of his administration. He had pledged to cut soldier numbers to 5500 by the year's end.

Obama's plan still calls for a cut in US soldier levels from the current roughly 9800.

Obama took office in 2009 pledging to wind down the war in Afghanistan — the longest in US history. He said in a White House statement that he had ended the US combat mission in Afghanistan, which had 40,000 committed troops when he first took office. However, the US soldiers would remain to provide training for Afghan forces and assist with security.

“We have to deal with the realities of the world as they exist," Obama said. “Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be.”

Taliban forces now hold more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion, according to recent United Nations estimates. The ISIS group has also established a small presence in Afghanistan.

Since the end of 2014, US troops have primarily served in support role for Afghan security forces rather than engaging in direct combat, with US airstrikes focusing on al-Qaeda and ISIS rather than the Taliban.

But the decreased US presence has not translated into decreased violence, with the United Nations declaring 2015 the worst year on record for Afghan civilians. At least 3545 civilians were killed last year according to the UN, the majority by Taliban insurgents.

The US military carried out new airstrikes against Taliban militants in Afghanistan last month.

Obama spoke in advance of a NATO summit on July 8 and 9 in Warsaw, Poland, where alliance members are expected to confirm their support for the Kabul government. On top of US soldiers, there are about 3000 other international troops in Afghanistan.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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