WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is weighing options for keeping some U.S. troops in Afghanistan longer than planned, while maintaining the goal of ending military operations by 2017, according to an administration official.
The potential slowdown of the U.S. withdrawal, which would be the second delay in recent months, reflects the tenuous security situation in Afghanistan as the U.S. prepares to end military operations there. It comes after requests for flexibility from U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Campbell, who’s leading U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, has drafted recommendations for increased training for the Afghan military as well as continued counterterrorism operations. Additionally, Ghani has asked for flexibility in the schedule for the drawdown of U.S. troops over the next two years.
The recommendations could allow the U.S. to keep some troops in Afghanistan longer and delay the closing of some bases, the official said. No decisions have been made yet and the 2017 deadline for ending military operations remains intact.
Combat operations in Afghanistan ended in December after more than 13 years, making it the longest war in U.S. history. About 10,000 troops remain in the country in an advisory role, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011.
The residual U.S. forces reflect “the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation,” Obama said in a Dec. 28 statement marking the end of combat operations.
About 5,500 troops are scheduled to remain in the country by the end of the year, a number that could increase if a delay in the timeline is approved. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in December that the U.S. would slow down its drawdown, keeping an additional 1,000 troops in Afghanistan in early 2015.
Ghani, who plans to visit Washington next month, urged Obama last month to “re-examine” the timeline for withdrawing troops. As the U.S. prepares to pull out from Afghanistan, the Afghan army faces a number of threats, including from insurgents with ties to the Taliban and Pakistan.
“Deadlines should not be dogmas,” Ghani said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” program.
The potential slowdown in drawing down troops was reported earlier by the Washington Post.