Obama will break pledge to end war in Afghanistan on his watch
Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30
US President Barack Obama will break his promise to end the war in Afghanistan on his watch and leave thousands of troops in the country when he departs the White House, passing the task of resolving America's "longest war" on to his successor.
Ending the Afghanistan war was a key campaign commitment made by Mr Obama when he was elected and he was accused by opponents of "kicking the can down the road" for the next US president to deal with.
Mr Obama's most recent timeline had been to withdraw forces, except those needed to protect the US Embassy in Kabul, by the end of 2016.
Instead, in a major reversal, the current 9,800-strong US presence will be kept for much of next year and will be reduced to 5,500 in 2017.
The troops will be based at four locations in Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar in a deployment that will cost $14.6bn per year.
Whether to leave US soldiers in Afghanistan had been under discussion for months by Mr Obama (pictured inset), the Pentagon, field commanders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who visited the White House in March.
The decision to do so was reinforced two weeks ago when the Taliban achieved its biggest military victory since the US invasion in 2001, taking control of the northern city of Kunduz before being beaten back by Afghan forces who were supported by US airstrikes.
During the fighting a US airstrike hit a hospital, killing 12 Médicins Sans Frontières staff and 10 patients.
A US official said: "The Afghan security forces engaged quite tenaciously in the fight in Kunduz. The Afghan government is very comfortable with this commitment. They've been indicating a desire for this commitment for some time."
Mr Obama's decision will make the continuation of the Afghanistan war a key issue in the 2016 US presidential race.
In May, Mr Obama said it was time to "turn the page" on the conflict, which has cost more than 2,000 American lives.
White House officials said the remaining troops would not have a combat role and would be limited to the "narrow missions" of counter-terrorism, training, advising and assisting Afghan forces.