Obama to Extend US Military Role in Afghanistan

Decision to keep current force of 9,800 troops through most of 2016 announced as Taliban fighters step up attacks

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Barack Obama plans to extend the US military’s role in Afghanistan and keep the current force of 9,800 troops through most of 2016, Al Jazeera has learned, amid a surge in Taliban attacks.

Obama had aimed to withdraw all but a small US embassy-based force in the capital Kabul before leaving office in January 2017.

Under the new plan, troop numbers will fall to 5,500 starting some time in 2017, and be based in Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

The decision comes after months of deliberations between Obama, Afghan leaders, Pentagon officials, commanders in the field and White House advisers about how best to continue to support Afghan forces, senior US administration officials said.

Martin Reardon, a 21-year veteran of FBI and the senior vice president of the Soufan Group, a strategic security and intelligence consultancy, believes this decision was taken to continue assisting and training the Afghan forces.

“This is the longest war U.S. has ever fought,” said Reardon. “They’ve been assisting [Afghan government] for decades now and this decision could prove to be a long-term commitment.”

However, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson told Al Jazeera that they will continue their fight against foreign forces until they leave the country.

“It was their decision to enter Afghanistan but our fearless jihad forced them to leave. This will continue until the last person [from foreign forces] is out of our country,” said Mujahid.

“Our fight remains strong even after a decade of invasion.”

Late last month, Taliban fighters briefly took over Kunduz before it was driven out from the strategic northern city by Afghan forces, backed by US air strikes.

The brief fall of Kunduz dealt a major blow to the country’s NATO-trained security forces and highlighted the Taliban’s potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds.

 

Reprinted with permission from Al Jazeera