To the satisfaction of military leaders who have fought to keep more troops in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has changed directions and will not be cutting the number of U.S. forces to 5,500 in the Islamic country by the end of the year.
According to Net Nebraska, U.S. officials have said that although there has not been a final decision on the number of troops that will remain in Afghanistan, most likely about 9,800 U.S. military members will stay well into next year. There has also been discussion about maintaining a steady number of counterterrorism troops, including options where several would remain beyond 2016.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, added that President Barack Obama would probably announce his decision during Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit later this month.
However, the administration would not make a commitment beyond 2016, as this has been considered a politically crucial national security goal for Obama. The President has promised on several occasions to get all troops out and end America’s longest war by the end of his presidency.
PBS NEWSHOUR reported that in addition to military leaders, members of Congress have also expressed concerns about a sharp drawdown of troops this year. Sen. John McCain stated last month during a hearing that a lack of presence in Afghanistan would create a vacuum and “allow terrorists to foment the same disaster in Afghanistan as we have seen in Iraq resulting in growing instability, terrorist safe havens and direct threats to the United States.”
During the same hearing, Gen. John Campbell, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said he has seen evidence of recruiting by ISIS and indications that some Taliban members are changing alliances and declaring loyalty to the militant group. He also argued that reducing to 5,500 troops by the end of the year would upset efforts to train and advise the Afghan military.
Obama’s original plan would have reduced U.S. troops to the target of 5,500 by the end of 2015. With the exception of embassy security forces, all other forces would have been taken out by the end of 2016. Embassy security roughly amounts to 1,000 troops.
According to PBS NEWSHOUR, Ghani and other Afghan leaders have made it clear that they would like as many U.S. troops to remain for as long as possible. Part of that comes from the new concerns about the possibility of an emergence of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.