Backpedaling on plans for the swift withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama is expected to announced today (Oct. 15) a new timeline for withdrawing from the region that would leave 5,500 pairs of boots on the ground through 2017.
Under the new exit strategy, the current US force of 9,800 would remain in Afghanistan through “most of 2016” before being scaled back, a senior administration official told the Washington Post. A force of 5,500 would remain in the war-torn country indefinitely at bases in Kabul, Bagram, Kandahar, and Jalalabad.
The about-face from President Obama, who previously outlined measures to bring most American forces home from Afghanistan before leaving office, follows months of talks with Afghan leaders, national security teams and commanders in the field on the best plan of action for supporting Afghan forces beyond withdrawal.
The American forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2016 will be tasked with training and advising the Afghan army, as they do now, with a focus on the counterterror teams. The US would also maintain control over a number of drones and Special Operations forces in the area to protect itself from potential attacks from al-Qaeda and other enemies.
US combat operations in Afghanistan officially ended last year after 13 years of war. Afghan troops have since been in charge of the nation’s security, with support from the US and NATO, but lately, they’ve struggled to keep Taliban militants at bay.
Hence, the new timetable.
Keeping the 5,500 troops in place is estimated to cost about $14.6 billion a year, up from the $5 billion projected for President Obama’s earlier plan to keep a smaller armed forces assistance group stationed in the country.