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US to keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into 2017: Obama

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WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that 8,400 US troops will remain in Afghanistan into 2017 in light of the still “precarious” security situation in the war-ravaged country.

“Instead of going down to 5,500 troops by the end of this year, the United States will maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into next year through the end of my administration,” Obama told a news conference.

“The decision I’m making today ensures my successor has a solid foundation for continued progress in Afghanistan, as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves,” he said.

The current number of US troops in Afghanistan is 9,800.

Obama’s announcement is further acknowledgement that Afghan security forces, who took charge of the country’s security in 2015, are still not ready to go it alone.

They have suffered a devastating string of setbacks at the hands of the Taliban, including the temporary loss of the city of Kunduz, and more than 5,000 Afghan troops were killed last year alone.

Other organizations, including the Islamic State group, have also stepped up activity.

“The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” Obama said.

“Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be. With our help, they’re still working to improve critical capabilities, such as intelligence, logistics, aviation and command and control.”

Obama’s decision comes after General John Nicholson, the new commander of the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, this year conducted a review of the security situation.

Republican Senator John McCain, a longtime critic of Obama’s military policies, praised the move, but said the president should have kept the entire 9,800 US troops in country.

Still, he said, “the decision to retain 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan into next year is certainly preferable to cutting those forces by nearly half.”

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