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Obama Extends U.S. Troop Levels to Boost Afghan Security

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 — President Barack Obama has extended troop levels in Afghanistan several months beyond the original drawdown plan to help Afghan security forces succeed during the upcoming fighting season.

During a news conference yesterday after meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Obama took the podium with Ghani and announced several areas in which the United States would continue to support the nation’s strategic partnership with Afghanistan.

“First,” Obama said, “we agreed to continue to keep in place our close security cooperation. Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place and insurgents still launch attacks, including cowardly suicide bombings against civilians.”

The president said Ghani is pursuing reforms to further strengthen Afghan security forces, including respect for human rights. And as part of the ongoing NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, the United States will continue to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

Continued Support for Afghanistan

The administration also will work with Congress on funding to sustain 352,000 Afghan police and troops through 2017, Obama said. “At the same time, we'll continue to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations,” he added. And he and Ghani agreed to maintain a dialogue on the counterterrorism partnership in the years ahead, Obama said.

In a decision reached last May between the United States and Afghanistan, 9,800 U.S. troops would have remained in Afghanistan for the Resolute Support mission until Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2015. Then troop levels would fall to 5,500 for the rest of the year and most of 2016.

“President Ghani has requested some flexibility on our drawdown timelines,” Obama said.

The president said that after discussions with his national security team and Army Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of the Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, he has decided to maintain the current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of this year.

A final decision on the drawdown speed in 2016 will be established later this year, he added.

Moving the Drawdown to the Right

“We're essentially moving the drawdown pace over to the right for several months, in part to compensate for the lengthy period it took for government formation,” Obama said, “in part because we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help Afghan security forces succeed … so we don't have to respond in an emergency because terrorist activities are being launched out of Afghanistan. We're on the path to do that.”

Continuing his description of areas of U.S. support for Afghanistan, Obama said support would continue for an Afghan-led reconciliation process with the Taliban and an outreach effort to Pakistan.

“President Ghani, you've shown bold leadership in reaching out to Pakistan, which is critical to the pursuit of peace,” Obama said. “Afghanistan and the United States agree on what the Taliban must do, which is break with Al Qaida, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws, including the protections for women and minorities.”

Serving All of the Afghan People

The United States also will continue to do the following, Obama said:

-- Support the national unity government in its efforts to serve all the Afghan people;

-- Be Afghanistan’s partner in advancing the rights and dignity of all Afghans, including women and girls; and

-- Support the development that underpins stability and improves the lives of the Afghan people.

“President Ghani is a leading expert on development, and I've been impressed by the reforms he's pursuing to make Afghanistan more self-reliant,” Obama said. “He wants to empower Afghans in these efforts, and that's why under the new development partnership that we announced yesterday, U.S. economic assistance will increasingly go through Afghan institutions, in support of Afghan priorities, with an emphasis on accountability, performance and achieving results.”

Revitalizing the Partnership

In his remarks, the Afghan president said tragedy brought Afghanistan and the United States together and common interests now unite the nations.

“We can assure you that the government of national unity has revitalized the partnership and looks at this partnership with the United States as foundational, not just for Afghanistan's stability but for regional and global stability,” Ghani said.

The flexibility provided by the United States for 2015, he said, will be used to accelerate reforms and to ensure that the Afghan national security forces are much better led, equipped and trained, and are focused on the fundamental mission.

“I'm pleased to say that the departure of 120,000 international troops has not brought about the security gap or the collapse that was often anticipated,” Ghani said.

Afghanistan’s Embrace of Democracy

Ghani said his country is unique in its embrace of democracy, and the Afghan people are proud of their Islamic civilization, which is in dialogue with the world, and they have the capacity to speak truth to terror.

The terrorists, he added, “do not speak for Islam. We do. It is the genuine Islam that is interested in dialogue with civilizations, and cooperation and endeavor forward.”

On regional cooperation, Ghani said his administration has taken steps to reconcile with the Taliban and reach out to Pakistan.

“We do hope that these steps will be reciprocated because the threats that exist, the changing ecology of terror, are making it imperative that all governments cooperate with each other,” he said.

Interconnected World

“Afghanistan is on the front line,” Ghani added. “Because of American engagement in Afghanistan, there have not been attacks on mainland United States. But let's not forget that fortresses cannot be built around countries or continents. We are living in an interconnected world and our security is joined together.”

Obama noted that Afghanistan and the world are marked by incredible diversity and differences of history, culture and faiths.

But, he said, “I believe that the progress we've made in this visit will help advance the goal for which so many of your citizens, Mr. President, have sacrificed over the years, the goal of making our two countries and the world safer.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)