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Tags: Afghanistan | Barack Obama | War on Terrorism | military | afghanistan | withdrawal | taliban

Obama May Slow Pace of US Troops' Exit from Afghanistan

Obama May Slow Pace of US Troops' Exit from Afghanistan
(Wakil Koshar/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 11 February 2015 08:49 AM

Obama administration officials and Army Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan, are expected to discuss options Wednesday for slowing the president's plans for ending the United States' military mission in Afghanistan before he steps down from the White House in early 2017.

The options aren't expected to change President Barack Obama's overall exit plans, reports The Washington Post, but rather could give Campbell more room this year to determine the drawdown pace as work continues to make sure Afghan troops can fight the Taliban alone.

"The defining elements of the plan are more or less intact," a senior administration official said, on the condition of anonymity. "All we’re looking at at this point is either variations within those or subtle variations of" the current framework.

Sources told the Post that the options under consideration call for Campbell to keep some regional training centers open for longer than had been planned, or even keep some of the more than 5,500 troops that are to still be in Afghanistan at the end of the year in the country a while longer.

In addition, plans to close vital bases, including Kandahar Airfield, could be reorganized or delayed over fears that troops could be drawn away from Afghan security force training.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who is to visit Washington in March, has asked Obama to re-examine his drawdown plans, and officials hope to finalize their decisions before Ghani arrives, the Post reports.

"We are cognizant of the fact that we’ve got to get in front of the so-called spring fighting season in Afghanistan," the official said.

The discussions are coming amid growing criticism over Iraq, where Islamic State militants were able to take control of a large swath of the country after U.S. troops were pulled out, forcing the United States to resume military action there.

Obama's plans, announced in May 2014, have already been adjusted, including in December when outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in Kabul that the United States would keep up to 10,800 troops in the country, or 1,000 more than had been planned, when the NATO combat mission ended on Dec. 31.

When Obama ordered the surge into the country, the United States' forces peaked at 100,000 troops, and last fall, his administration made the decision to keep some troops there even after the NATO mission ended.

A rapid reduction in U.S. troop forces could cause high casualties in Afghan forces, warns
David Sedney, a former senior Pentagon official specializing in Afghanistan policy, who said U.S. support is vital while Afghans continue to fight the still-powerful Taliban.

"It’s hugely counterproductive to have this timeline for 2015 laid out the way it is," Sedney said. But still, U.S. troops "are going to be of very little use if they’re straitjacketed by a 50 percent cut halfway through the year."

But while the drawdown may be slowed, Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said there are still no changes to plans to withdraw troops over the next two years. But, "as always, the operational commander has the right and responsibility to manage the pace of that withdrawal as he deems fit."

However, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ashton Carter, who Obama has nominated to replace Hagel as defense secretary, are reportedly open to revising the plans.

"Flexibility remains important as we continually assess both the progress and the threats in Afghanistan," another senior military official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. "But that does not imply an open-ended commitment of troops is in either their interest or ours.

"We’re on the right path, and we’ll make recommendations in the margin as needed."

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Obama administration officials and Army Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan, are expected to discuss options Wednesday for slowing the president's plans for ending the United States' military mission in Afghanistan by January 2017.
military, afghanistan, withdrawal, taliban
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2015-49-11
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 08:49 AM
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