Obama to slow troop withdrawal from Afghanistan to help maintain stability

Mr Obama acknowledged that the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan was being slowed

The United States will postpone at least until the end of this year any further wind-down of the almost 10,000 troops that it currently has in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama said yesterday, arguing it would be “well worth it” if it helps maintain stability in the country and accelerate reforms.

After talks with President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, Mr Obama acknowledged that the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan was being slowed but said the longer-term goal of having only an embassy-based security force in Kabul by the end f 2016, when he leaves office, has not changed.

The Pentagon, which four years ago had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, had been planning to halve the current troop presence by the end of this year as part of the continued draw-down in the country almost 14 years after American engaged in its war there.  But Mr Obama said he had agreed to be flexible following a direct request from Mr Ghani.

“This flexibility reflects our reinvigorated partnership with Afghanistan which is aimed at making Afghanistan secure and prevent it from being used to launch terrorist attacks,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Ghani’s visit to the White House came in the midway through a five-day visit to the United States.  Elected last September, he has been at pains to present himself a cooperative partner with the US and drawing a sharp distinction between himself and his predecessor Hamid Karzai who had a frequently fractious relationship with Washington. “Tragedy bought us together, interests now unite us,” he said.

US officials have called the differences in dealing with Mr Ghani as opposed to Mr Karzai as  like “night and day”.  Again today Mr Ghani paid tribute to all the US soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in his country over the last decade and a half. He also gave thanks to “American taxpayers” who footed the bill of America’s operations in Afghanistan. Mr Ghani will address the US Congress on Tuesday.

“We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to help Afghan security forces succeed so we don't have to go back,” Mr Obama said of his decision to slow down his withdrawal, adding that Afghanistan “is still a dangerous place”.

The revised withdrawal timetable will be “used to accelerate reforms, to ensure that the Afghan National Security Forces are much better led, equipped, trained and are focused on their fundamental mission,” Mr Ghani, adding that he was pleased to note that "the departure of 120,000 international troops has not brought about the security gap or collapse that was often anticipated.”

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