More US troops to stay on in Afghanistan

Visiting Kabul, US defence secretary says 1,000 additional troops will remain, increasing total number to 10,800.

An additional 1,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan next year, the outgoing US defence secretary has said, putting the total number of troops to be left in the country at 10,800.

Chuck Hagel made the announcement on Saturday in Kabul during a visit to Afghanistan, his last one to the country as the US defence chief.

US President Barack Obama approved the increase, despite an earlier plan to limit the US force to a maximum of 9,800 troops in 2015.

A protracted Afghan election delayed the signing of security deals with the US and NATO countries, which set back plans for Western governments to contribute troops to the post-2014 mission, named Operation Resolute Support, Hagel said.

Due to “delays in signing these agreements, the force generation effort for [Operation] Resolute Support is several months behind where we hoped it would be at this time”, Hagel said.

“As a result, President Obama has provided US military commanders the flexibility to manage any temporary force shortfall that we might experience for a few months as we allow for coalition troops to arrive in theatre.

“This will mean the delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 US troops, so that up to 10,800 troops, rather than 9,800, could remain in Afghanistan through the end of this year, and for the first few months in 2015.”

‘Long-term plan same’

Hagel said Obama’s decision did not change the mission for the troops next year, which will focus on training Afghan forces, nor did it alter a long-term deadline for a US troop drawdown over the next two years.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Kabul, said the US decision is very important if Afghanistan is to go ahead with promised changes.

“The new government in Afghanistan told international donors two days ago in London that it would go ahead with planned reforms in terms of challenging corruption and institution building,” he said.

“It is understood that these reforms are wholly dependent on the security situation here.”

In his remarks, Hagel also said US forces would maintain “a limited counter-terrorism mission” against al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

The US was “committed to preventing al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to threaten the US”, he said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies