US to keep 9800 troops in Afghanistan

By JULIE PACE Published: May 27, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will seek to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally ends later this year and then will withdraw most of those forces by 2016, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Obama’s decision is largely in line with what military commanders have been seeking and will allow the president to fully end the American-led military effort by the time he leaves office.

The two-year plan is contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign the agreement, U.S. officials are confident that either of the candidates seeking to replace him would give his approval.

The plan calls for the U.S. military to draw down from its current force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year. Those troops would be dispatched throughout Afghanistan and focus on counterterrorism missions and training Afghan security forces. They would not be engaged in combat missions.

Over the course of next year, the number of troops would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.

The American forces would likely be bolstered by a few thousand NATO troops. The total NATO presence, including U.S. troops, is expected to be around 12,000 at the start of next year.

Obama was to announce the plan at the White House Tuesday afternoon. He is just back from a surprise weekend trip to Afghanistan where he met with U.S. commanders and American forces serving in the closing months of America’s longest war.