President Obama backtracked slightly on his promise to keep only 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan past this year. Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Saturday that as many as an additional 1,000 troops will stay in Afghanistan for the first few months of 2015. Hagel insisted that the recent uptick in violence in Afghanistan was “predictable” and, regardless, it did not factor into the decision to keep more troops in the country than initially planned. The reason for the higher numbers has to do with a delay in U.S. allies sending their own troops for a planned NATO train-and-assist mission that starts in January, reports USA Today.
Although the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, expressed confidence on Saturday that NATO members will send the pledged troops, he said that it’ll take a few extra weeks or months for everything to get organized, reports the Associated Press.
President Obama “has provided U.S. military commanders the flexibility to manage any temporary force shortfall that we might experience for a few months as we allow for coalition troops to arrive in theater,” Hagel said at a joint news conference at the presidential palace with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. “But the president’s authorization will not change our troops’ missions, or the long-term timeline for our drawdown.”
The planned drawdown involves decreasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of 2015.
“They’re not completely there yet, but they’ve come a long way,” Hagel said when CNN asked how he would define victory in Afghanistan. “That’s to the credit certainly of the United States, the sacrifice, the blood and the treasure that we’ve made there.”