The United States will leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into next year, US President Barack Obama said Wednesday, slowing the planned drawdown of the US military presence in the country.
The security situation in Afghanistan remains "precarious," Obama said in making the long-awaited announcement, which will leave more troops than planned at the end of his administration in January.
Obama had last year said he planned to reduce troop levels to 5,500 by the end of this year, but a review by military commanders recommended a higher level. That figure was itself a slowing of earlier plans that would have left only a small military presence of around 1,000 troops based at the US embassy.
"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," he said, noting the Taliban remains a threat to Afghan security and Afghan troops are still not as strong as they should be.
The review looked at the current security environment in Afghanistan, the capabilities of Afghan troops and the last two fighting seasons, according to a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The move would allow US forces to better advise, support and train Afghan troops who have taken the lead in the fight against the Taliban, the official said.
Afghan government forces have struggled with attacks by Taliban insurgents after taking over full responsibility for their country's security in January 2015.
Obama says the move should send a message to the Taliban that they cannot prevail and that the US and international community will remain committed to the Afghan government.
"You have now been waging war against the Afghan people for many years. You've been unable to prevail," he said. "Afghan security forces continue to grow stronger and the commitment of the international community, including the United States to Afghanistan and its people, will endure."
The announcement comes ahead of a NATO summit in Warsaw on Friday and is a bid to demonstrate US leadership of the alliance's mission in Afghanistan, US officials said. Other NATO countries are also expected to announce their own commitments to Afghanistan.
Obama will also meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah at the summit and said he expects more allies to step up to provide commitments of troops and funds through the end of the decade.
Obama will leave office in January following presidential elections and he said he believes the move will leave his successor well placed to make continued progress in Afghanistan and fight terrorism.