U.S. Reconsiders Troop Withdrawal Plan In Afghanistan
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And we're going to talk more now about the decision to keep about 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of this year. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here in the studio.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So, explain more of the thinking behind this idea of keeping more troops in Afghanistan longer.
BOWMAN: Well, this was a request from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and there were several reasons here. President Obama mentioned there were months lost in a runoff election in Afghanistan when President Ghani was forming his government. So that kind of slowed down the training mission because it was not clear who was going to be in the government. And also American commanders wanted to keep more troops there too because Taliban attacks were on the rise. It's taking - the Afghan forces are taking more casualties and they also still need a lot more help with logistics, medevacs and leader development. So, there's a sense more time is needed to build a capable Afghan force.
CORNISH: This decision today really affects about 4,000 troops, right, for a few months?
CORNISH: Is this really a significant change?
BOWMAN: Well, in a way it is. It gives the commander there, General John Campbell, more troops heading into the fighting season next year, the spring of 2016. It gives him a cushion, a certain comfort level, in case the Taliban this year ends up taking more ground and the Afghans need more help. But the troop levels, Audie, we're talking about here are much lower than just a few years ago and President Obama talked about that today. Let's listen.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We've gone down from 100,000 down to under 10,000 that they are not on the front lines because they're not in a combat role. We are doing all that we can do to make sure that force protection is a priority for those who are in Afghanistan and the date for us to have completed our drawdown will not change.
CORNISH: Tom, we hear the emphasis there from President Obama saying that the date to complete the drawdown has not changed. What does that really mean?
BOWMAN: Well, the president wants all 10,000 American troops out by the end of 2016, the end of his presidency. At that point, the U.S. would have military advisers in the embassy like you'd see in many countries. Now, the president said today the combat mission is over and Ashraf Ghani said the same thing several times. Now, it's true most of the U.S. troops there are trainers. They're working inside larger bases, but some of them are still going out in patrols, hundreds of them, with Afghans on a counter-terror mission. They're going after the remnants of al-Qaida and some Taliban. So those guys are still very much in harm's way.
CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.
Tom, thanks so much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
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