Washington, Oct 15 (IANS) Saying that pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more Al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced Thursday that US forces will remain in Afghanistan at their current levels throughout much of 2016.
“While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” the president said. “I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.”
In a brief statement from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, he said the US will keep a force of 9,800 in the country for most of next year and a contingent of 5,500 for 2017, the year he leaves office.
Announcing a policy reversal that basically prolongs American involvement in the war that has stretched 14 years, Obama, who had planned to reduce the number of US troops to around 1,000, stressed the bigger residual force will not be engaged in combat operations.
They will instead stick to their “narrow but critical missions” of training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of Al Qaeda, to ensure the “best possibility for lasting progress”, he said.
“I know many of you have grown weary of this conflict,” Obama said to the American people. “As you are well aware, I do not support the idea of endless war.”
But “Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. They’re developing critical capabilities — intelligence, logistics, aviation, command and control,” he said.
“And meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains, particularly in rural areas, and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul,” Obama said.
“Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more Al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan, and we’ve seen the emergence of an ISIL presence,” he said.
“The bottom line is, in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some places there is risk of deterioration,” Obama added.
Obama who is meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif here next week, said: “I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve.”
The president also insisted that the decision to keep troops in Afghanistan longer is “consistent with the overall vision that we have had”.
“Frankly, we anticipated, as we were drawing down troops that there were times where we might need to slow things down or fill gaps in Afghan capacity. This is a reflection of that,” he said.
The US combat mission in Afghanistan ended last December after 13 years.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)