The United States on Tuesday agreed on Afghanistan’s request to delay the withdrawal of its troops from that country.
“Based on President Ghani’s request for flexibility in the US draw down timeline, the US will maintain its current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of 2015,” said a joint statement issued by the countries after a meeting of their leaders.
“The specific trajectory of the 2016 US troop drawdown will be established later in 2015 to enable the US troop consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence by the end of 2016,” President Barack Obama said later at a news conference.
The joint statement said this “flexibility reflects the re-invigorated partnership with Afghanistan, and is aimed at making Afghanistan secure and preventing it from being used to launch terrorist attacks”.
The US had earlier announced, responding to another request, financial support for the Afghan military, which is planned to grow to 352,000 by the end of 2017.
The US has around 9,800 troops in Afghanistan starting 2014 in counter-terrorism and training and advisory roles. They are not involved in combat operations.
The US had planned to halve that presence by the end of 2015, doing down eventually to Kabul-centered institutional security assistance presence by the end of 2016.
President Ghani has said he would like the US to stay at the 9,800-level for the next 10 years or so, but a specific timeframe has not been ascribed to this request yet.
India, which is deeply invested in Afghanistan, will be following these talks closely. Complete US withdrawal, it fears, may throw the country back into the hands of Pakistan-backed Taliban.
The unity government of Afghanistan led jointly by Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has put relations with the US back on tracks, ending the bitterness of last years of Hamid Karzai’s regime.
Ghani and Obama have done multiple video conferences since the unity government took office. And the White House has acknowledged a marked improvement in ties.
Ghani, formerly of the World Bank, and Abdullah have also brought to their interactions a noticeable ease missing — the meetings on Monday, for instance. were a no-tie affair.
Most assuring to experts and observers, however, was the regard and camaraderie that the two Afghan leaders seemed to share with each, publicly at least.