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Biggest policy shift: 9,800 US troops to stay in Afghanistan

5,500 troops beyond 2016 in Afghanistan enough to curtail insurgency: Carter 

AT-KABUL: The US President Barack Obama has decided to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2016 and 5,500 troops beyond to train and help the Afghan security forces.

Responding to the increasing insurgency in Afghanistan, Obama said on Thursday that the 9,800-strong force would remain in the war-hit country as the Afghan forces were not ready to face the situation alone.

Terming the plan “right thing to do”, the US president had acknowledged that Afghan security forces were not enough strong and need support.

In a televised address he said: “As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.  Our forces therefore remain engaged in two narrow but critical missions—training Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.  Of course, compared to the 100,000 troops we once had in Afghanistan, today fewer than 10,000 remain, in support of these very focused missions.”

However, he also commended the Afghan forces for shouldering the security responsibilities while saying, “Afghan forces have continued to step up.   Afghan forces continue to hold most urban areas.  And when the Taliban has made gains, as in Kunduz, Afghan forces backed by coalition support have been able to push them back.  This has come at a very heavy price.  This year alone, thousands of Afghan troops and police have lost their lives, as have many Afghan civilians.”

Updating his nation on the US mission in Afghanistan, Obama said the American troops no longer patrol Afghan villages or valleys but are training Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and supporting counterterrorism operations “against remnants of al-Qaeda”.

Obama said the security situation in some parts of Afghanistan was deteriorating as the militants were taking advantage of the coalition forces movements. Emphasizing on improving ANSF’s capabilities, he said: “

Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. They’re developing critical capabilities— intelligence, logistics, aviation, command and control.  And meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul.  Much of this was predictable.  We understood that as we transitioned, that the Taliban would try to exploit some of our movements out of particular areas, and that it would take time for Afghan security forces to strengthen.”

Asking the Afghan militant groups to join the Afghan-owned peace process, the US president said that the full drawdown of the American forces from the war-hit country was impossible sans long lasting political settlement.

Speaking about the Afghan-led peace talks, Obama said: “By now it should be clear to the Taliban and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government. Likewise, sanctuaries for the Taliban and other terrorists must end.  Next week, I’ll host Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan, and I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.”

He said the new mission was important to prevent terror attacks against the United States and its citizens.

President Ashraf Ghani welcomed the decision and said that the new US plan would “respond to fear and terror”.

The US Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, said that 5,500 American forces in Afghanistan after 2016 would be enough to curtail insurgency and respond to threats. He said the number would help to achieve the goal of stability.

According to the US Department of Defense, the defense secretary said that Afghanistan still needs support of the United States.

“Through NATO’s Resolute Support mission, the Defense Department is working closely with the Afghan national defense and security forces and the country’s security ministries to ensure they’re prepared to protect the Afghan people and set conditions for stability in the region,” Carter said.

He said the US military’s presence and financial sustainment will send a strong message to the international community that the US is committed to Afghanistan and is intent on fostering long-term stability.

“We anticipate that the U.S. commitment will in turn garner the commitment of other members of the coalition that U.S. forces have operated with,” Carter said. “I have already initiated consultations with key allies to secure their continued support for this mission.”

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