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Postponed troop drawdown prolongs Afghanistan mission and U.S.’ longest war

December 31, 2016 - AFGHANISTAN

The date set for a drawdown of United States troops in the strife-torn country instead marks the start of an indefinite U.S. military presence - unless U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump alters the plan when he takes office in Jan 2017.

He described himself during the campaign as a non-interventionist. He hasn't clarified what the description means in relation to Afghanistan and other conflicts in which the United States is embroiled.

If events unfold in the manner conceived by the Barack Obama administration, some 8,400 troops will remain in the country, with the level possibly reduced to 5,800 late in 2017. Worries about the combat preparedness of Afghan forces and ongoing military gains by Islamic insurgents have pushed President Obama into reversing his plan to end U.S. involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq before he leaves office in early 2017.

U.S. cable network CNN noted that a watershed moment came in Sep 2015 when a major Afghan city fell to Taliban insurgents for the first time in the 14-year history of the American military presence there. Allied fighters from Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) are reinforcing the Taliban insurgency, which was toppled in Afghanistan in 2001 for harboring Al Qaeda but has not been defeated. With an estimated core of up to 60,000 fighters, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report, the group remains a potent force. The allies boost the Taliban's hold over the country, particularly in the south and east.

Obama's reversal on Oct 15, 2015 revealed second thoughts about the wisdom of ending the U.S. and NATO combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. Explaining the reversal, Obama said he "would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack our country again." Several news sources point out that the main reason is worries that Afghan security forces just aren't ready to stand on their own.

The Taliban (The Council on Foreign Relations (US)

Obama's decision to delay withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, explained (CNN 15 Oct 2015)

U.S. troops are back in restive Afghan province, a year after withdrawal (WP 7 Apr 2016

Date written/update: 2016-11-14