President Barack Obama said he will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017 in an announcement Thursday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. Obama was joined by, from left, U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter; and Vice President Joe Biden. Pool Photo by Ron Sachs/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama announced Thursday the United States will retain thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan past the end of his term, terminating his administration's goal of ending the country's longest war before he leaves office.
Obama said the current American force of 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan through most of 2016. A force of 5,500 troops will still be in the country in 2017, and will be stationed at points beyond the capital of Kabul to serve in Jalalabad, Kandahar and at Bagram Air Field, senior administration officials told The Wall Street Journal.
During his address, Obama praised the progress made by the Afghan Security Forces against the Taliban, but notes radical militants remain a serious threat.
"Afghan forces continued to hold most urban areas," Obama said. "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. At the same time, Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be."
The Obama administration's former plan in Afghanistan was the continuous withdrawal of 9,800 troops by 2016. About 1,000 soldiers would have been left at the U.S. embassy at the end of Obama's term. Senior administration officials maintained the troops will not be serving a combat role, and will continue to advise, assist and train Afghan Security Forces.
"Their mission will not change," Obama said. "Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier: training Afghan forces and going after al-Qaida."
The president campaigned for seeking an end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan during his first bid for the White House. The decision to slow the withdrawal of troops was made as Obama was under pressure at home and abroad over the Afghan conflict, which led to "an extensive and months-long review" of strategy, White House officials told the Los Angeles Times.
"As you are well aware, I do not support the idea of endless war," he continued. "Yet given what's at stake in Afghanistan, and the opportunity for a stable and committed ally that can partner with us in preventing the emergence of future threats, and the fact that we have an international coalition, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort."
NATO allies and the Afghan government called for the United States to maintain ground troops as the country faces rising violence, particularly by the Taliban, which launched an attack of the northern city of Kunduz last month -- temporarily seizing control.