About 8,400 US troops to remain in Afghanistan next year

U.S. Army soldiers prepare to conduct security checks near the Pakistan border at Combat Outpost Dand Patan in Afghanistan's Paktya province on Feb. 29, 2012. The soldiers are paratroopers assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment. | DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson, U.S. Army

Paratroopers assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment prepare to conduct security checks near the Pakistan border at Combat Outpost Dand Patan in Afghanistan’s Paktya province in 2012. | U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson

President Obama once again altered his withdrawal plan for Afghanistan on Thursday, announcing that 8,400 U.S. troops would remain in the country next year rather than the 5,500 he initially authorized.

The announcement by Obama at the White House, with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford flanking him, left decisions on future U.S. commitments to Afghanistan to the next president and essentially scuttled Obama’s dream of leaving office after ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The decision I’m making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for progress in Afghanistan, as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves,” Obama said. “I firmly believe the decision I’m announcing is the right thing to do.”

Currently, there are about 9,800 U.S. troops authorized for Afghanistan. Obama had earlier agreed to alter his plan to begin reducing that number to 5,500 by January 2017 by keeping the 9,800 in Afghanistan through the rest of this year, as recommended by his generals.

In a statement, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who just returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, said “the decision to retain 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan into next year is certainly preferable to cutting those forces by nearly half. That said, when the president himself describes the security situation in Afghanistan as ‘precarious,’ it is difficult to discern any strategic rationale for withdrawing 1,400 U.S. troops by the end of the year.”

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