President Barack Obama announced another adjustment to the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan Wednesday morning, increasing the number of troops that will stay in the country through the end of his term in January, 2017, from 5,500 to 8,400.
The U.S. currently has around 9,800 troops in the country. Obama was ushered into office on promises that he would end the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during his tenure. His last adjustment to the troop withdrawal would have kept 5,500 troops in the country to train and advise Afghan security forces through early 2017, with no more than an embassy security presence by the end of his presidency.
Obama acknowledged that while “few Americans imagined” that the U.S. would be in Afghanistan this long, the training of Afghan forces has allowed the U.S. to bring 90 percent of troops home. Despite working toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, Obama noted “we have to deal with the realities of the world as it is, and we can’t forget what’s at stake in Afghanistan.”
“This is where al-Qaida is trying to regroup. This is where ISIL is trying to expand its presence,” said Obama, defending his decision during a press conference. “If these terrorists succeed in regaining areas and camps where they can train and plot, they will attempt more attacks against us.”
Obama’s decision comes at a time when the Taliban is in the midst of a major resurgence in Afghanistan. Estimates claim the militant group controls anywhere between 20 percent to as much as 50 percent of the country.
The president’s announcement comes just two days after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised NATO support for the Afghan government through next year. The military alliance is expected to discuss the extension during its Warsaw Summit, set to begin Friday.
“The extension means more of the same, which has led to Taliban gains over the past several years,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long War Journal, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Roggio believes that the extension will only be successful if U.S. troops commit to stay throughout 2017, past Obama’s tenure as president.
“NATO absolutely cannot extend its mission without U.S. forces present,” Roggio told TheDCNF. “The U.S. troops make up the bulk for the combat (security) forces and many countries would be vulnerable and unable to provide security for or extract their forces if the Taliban pressure Kabul.”
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, welcomed Obama’s decision, though he would prefer keeping the entire current force in Afghanistan.
“While I believe conditions on the ground warranted retaining the current force level, the decision to retain 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan into next year is certainly preferable to cutting those forces by nearly half,” said McCain in a statement.
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