The United States will maintain a higher than originally planned troop presence in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama announced Wednesday. About 8,400 American troops will now remain in the strife-torn country until the end of Obama’s term — much higher than the initial target of 5,500.
“To their credit — and in the face of a continued Taliban insurgency and terrorist networks — Afghan forces remain in control of all the major population centers, provincial capitals, major transit routes and most district centers,” Obama said during a press briefing at the White House. “Nevertheless, the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be. With our help, they’re still working to improve critical capabilities such as intelligence, logistics, aviation and command and control.”
There are roughly 9,800 American troops currently deployed in Afghanistan. In 2014, while announcing an end to U.S. combat mission in the country, Obama had pledged to draw down all but roughly 1,000 military personnel working at the U.S. embassy in Kabul by the end of 2015. In October, however, he announced a change in the policy, stating that more than half of the 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would stay on until 2017.
The decision announced Thursday further slows the drawdown, leaving Obama’s successor with a substantial military presence in the country — although it is way below the 100,000 troops that the U.S. once had on the ground.
“The narrow missions assigned to our forces will not change. They remain focused on supporting Afghan forces and going after terrorists. But maintaining our forces at this specific level — based on our assessment of the security conditions and the strength of Afghan forces — will allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve,” Obama said.
The announcement comes amid a marked surge in violence across the country. Over the past year — since it announced the death of its former leader Mullah Mohammed Omar — the Taliban has intensified bombings and large-scale assaults on security forces in the country, shunning peace talks with the Afghan government. Even the death of Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour in May has failed to abate the intensity of the attacks — some of which have also targeted police and civilians in the capital city of Kabul.
“My decision today also sends a message to the Taliban and all those who have opposed Afghanistan’s progress. You have now been waging war against the Afghan people for many years. You’ve been unable to prevail,” Obama said. “I will say it again — the only way to end this conflict and to achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That’s the only way.”