The United States will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, the White House announced Tuesday. The decision to delay the complete withdrawal followed a meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The number of American troops was originally slated to fall to 5,500 by year’s end.
“We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to help Afghan security forces succeed so we don't have to go back,” Obama said in a White House news conference alongside Ghani. He indicated that there are still plans to complete the withdrawal by the end of 2016, fulfilling his pledge to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of his second term. The slowdown in troop withdrawal “reflects our reinvigorated partnership with Afghanistan,” Obama said.
In Ghani's first visit to the White House since being elected six months ago, the Afghan president struck a more conciliatory tone than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, who often tangled with the Americans. He thanked Obama and the U.S. military in several media appearances Monday and Tuesday and asked for the extended troop presence. "Tragedy brought us together; interests now unite us," said Ghani, who was working in Lower Manhattan when the 9/11 attacks occurred.
In a joint statement, the two presidents recommitted to ending the conflict with the Taliban and preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist launching ground. Already facing a precarious security situation, Ghani recently warned that militants from the Islamic State group were pushing into Afghanistan.
Tuesday's joint statement outlined additional steps Afghanistan was expected to take to build a more secure state under the prolonged U.S. presence, including governmental reforms and economic development. The additional troops, Ghani said, would “ensure that the Afghan National Security Forces are much better led, equipped, trained and are focused on their fundamental mission.”