Obama extends US military presence in Afghanistan

Decision to keep current force of 9,800 troops through most of 2016 announced as Taliban fighters step up attacks.

US President Barack Obama has announced plans to extend the United States military’s role in Afghanistan and keep the current force of 9,800 troops through most of 2016, amid a surge in Taliban attacks.

Obama had aimed to withdraw all but a small US embassy-based force in the capital Kabul before leaving office in January 2017.

Fault Lines – This is Taliban Country

Under the new plan, troop numbers will fall to 5,500 starting some time in 2017, and be based in Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

Saying that he does not “support the idea of endless war”, Obama nonetheless said that he is “firmly convinced” that the US cannot “allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven” for armed groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. 

“Since taking the lead for security earlier this year, Afghan forces have continued to step up,” he said. “Afghan forces continue to hold most major areas.” 

“In key areas of the country the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places there is risk of deterioration,” he said. 

The decision comes after months of deliberations between Obama, Afghan leaders, Pentagon officials, commanders in the field and White House advisers about how best to continue to support Afghan forces, senior US administration officials said.

Martin Reardon, a 21-year veteran of FBI and the senior vice president of the Soufan Group, a strategic security and intelligence consultancy, believes this decision was taken to continue assisting and training the Afghan forces.

“This is the longest war U.S. has ever fought,” said Reardon. “They’ve been assisting [Afghan government] for decades now and this decision could prove to be a long term commitment.” 

However, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson told Al Jazeera that they will continue their fight against foreign forces until they leave the country. 

INFOGRAPHIC: Who was Mullah Omar?

“It was their decision to enter Afghanistan but our fearless jihad forced them to leave. This will continue until the last person [from foreign forces] is out of our country,” said Mujahid. 

“Our fight remains strong even after a decade of invasion.”

Late last month, Taliban fighters briefly took over Kunduz before it was driven out from the strategic northern city by Afghan forces, backed by US air strikes.

The brief fall of Kunduz dealt a major blow to the country’s NATO-trained security forces and highlighted the Taliban’s potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies