Secretary of Defense Ash Carter reportedly told NATO defense ministers the U.S. is reassessing the plan to cut force levels to 5,500, and may keep force levels at 9,800 for the foreseeable future.
The Obama administration originally wanted to drawdown forces to less than 1,000 who could all stay within the walls of the U.S. embassy. The Afghan defense forces did not do nearly as well as planned in 2015, forcing the administration to revise its number to 5,500. Conditions have deteriorated so badly the administration is mulling keeping troop levels at their current level of 9,800 throughout the end of President Barack Obama’s presidency.
NATO originally planned to consolidate all forces around the capital city of Kabul, but has now committed to a continued regional deployment. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press, “will have what we call a flexible regional approach, meaning that we will continue to be of course in Kabul but also out in the different regions.”
Obama has given the U.S. military more leeway in its mission to assist Afghan defense forces in the battle against the Taliban. Obama’s authorization will allow increased close air support when Afghan forces are in a firefight with the Taliban. Under the old rules of engagement, the U.S. was only allowed to intervene on behalf of the Afghan forces when they were about to suffer a particularly devastating military setback.
The revised troop level decision comes after the new U.S. ground commander, Gen. John Nicholson, submitted his first 90-day assessment of the NATO effort in Afghanistan. The Taliban currently control more territory in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001. The Islamic extremist insurgent group has seen unprecedented gains since the end of NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan.
As NATO forces drew down from a height of 165,000 troops in 2012, the Taliban has slowly retaken territory throughout southern Afghanistan. Cities throughout southern Afghanistan occupied for years by NATO forces are now under Taliban control. The Taliban also seized control of the northern city of Kunduz in September, 2015, marking the first insurgent seizure of a major city since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
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