President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he is canceling his plan to withdraw from Afghanistan during his presidency and instead will leave the current force of 9,800 troops in place throughout 2016.
Under the new plan, troop levels are set to drop to 5,500 at an unspecified point in late 2016 or early 2017. The U.S. will continue operations out of bases in Kandahar, Bagram, and Jalalabad, a departure from Obama’s previous plan in which America’s presence in Afghanistan would have been scaled back to 1,000 troops garrisoned at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
“Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. Meanwhile, the Taliban has made gains particularly in rural areas and can still launch deadly attacks in cities, including Kabul,” said President Obama in a Thursday speech from the White House, according to the Washington Post.
“I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again,” he added.
The New York Times notes, “The Taliban are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the United Nations, and last month they scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks before pulling back on Tuesday.”
Beltway hawks have reportedly been pressuring the president to bolster U.S. presence in Afghanistan after ISIS rose to power in a vacuum created by years of war and destabilization in Iraq.
President Obama’s new plan, which is estimated to cost $14.6 billion, leaves flexibility for U.S. military leaders or the next president to decide when troops levels will be scaled back from 9,800 to 5,500.
U.S. troops have been fighting in Afghanistan for 14 years. To date, 2,345 U.S. military members have been killed in the conflict and 20,071 have been wounded in action, according to NBC News.
President Obama, who had pledged while campaigning to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan during his presidency, said that he is not disappointed by the change in plans.