This will leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan until the end of his presidency, 2,900 more than he promised. Obama defended his decision saying:
“I strongly believe that it is in our national security interest, especially after all the blood and treasure we’ve invested in Afghanistan over the years, that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed. The decision I’m making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for continued progress in Afghanistan as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves.” Obama said his national security advisers had recommended that he move away from his earlier pledge to reduce numbers to 5,500. Officials said the decision was based for the most part on assessments made by General John Nicholson Jr. who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Obama said the basic nature of the present mission to assist and advise local Afghan forces will not change but last month the White House approved giving U.S. commanders greater freedom to use air strikes whenever U.S. or Afghan troops were in danger. Obama said he will not let Afghanistan become a safe haven for terrorists to attack the U.S. The U.S. spends about $4 billion annually to fund the Afghan military. The U.S. is trying to get some NATO partners to share the burden as described in a recent article. This October, the US will have been in Afghanistan for 15 years. As of now, the Taliban control more territory than they have any time since 2001.
Many members of the U.S. Congress want the U.S. to send more troops. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry, said:
“The precision of the president’s new Afghanistan troop cap would be comical were its consequences not so tragic for our mission and military readiness. It is time that the president level with the American people about what it will really take to achieve our goals in Afghanistan, and how much it will cost. The truth is that many thousands more Americans are performing military functions in Afghanistan than even the current troop cap authorizes.” In spite of the fact that the combat role of the US in Afghanistan is over, 38 Americans including troops, contractors, and workers lost their lives last year.
The UK is to send 50 more troops to Afghanistan. With the 450 troops already there, the UK contingent will be 500 troops. The mission was to end this year but has been extended to 2017.
Australia has also extended its Afghan mission until at least mid-2017. It was to end at the end of this year. Australia also pleadged $100 million a year to fund the Afghan National Army and National Police until 2020. There are only 270 Australian troops in Afghanistan.
NATO allies promised the US they will contribute about $1 billion a year over the next three years to help fund the Afghan military. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stotlenberg said that there were more pledges to come. 12,000 NATO troops will stay in Afghanistan into 2017.