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U.S. to delay troop withdrawal from Afghanistan until late 2016

U.S. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the nearly 10,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan will remain there through most of next year, saying that Afghan forces are still not as strong as they need to be. Some 5,500 troops will stay beyond 2016.

Obama said at a press conference that maintaining the current force of 9,800 troops through most of next year will allow the U.S.-led coalition to “sustain our efforts” to train and assist Afghan forces “as they grow stronger, not only during this fighting season, but into the next one.”

Obama said he made the decision after speaking with Afghan leaders, members of the U.S. Congress, and international partners.

“I have decided to maintain our posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year,” the president said. “Their mission will not change. Our troops will continue to pursue those two narrow tasks that I outlined earlier: training Afghan forces and going after al-Qaeda.”

Under the new drawdown schedule, about 5,500 American troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2016. Those troops would stay at a number of small military bases, including at Bagram and Jalalabad in the northeast and Kandahar in the south.

“Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al-Qaeda coming into Afghanistan, and we have seen the emergence of an ISIL (Islamic State) presence,” Obama explained. “In key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile. In some places there is risk of deterioration.”

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