Obama: 'The Taliban Remains a Threat,' So He's Again Slowing Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

By Susan Jones | July 6, 2016 | 11:16am EDT
President Barack Obama, flanked by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, makes a statement on Afghanistan from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Three days after Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) warned President Obama not to further reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, President Obama on Wednesday announced that he will make "an additional adjustment to our posture," leaving 8,400 U.S. troops in that country through the end of his term.

That's well above the "normal embassy presence" he envisioned when he announced the end of major combat operations in 2014.

"The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious," Obama said on Wednesday. "Even as they improve, Afghanistan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be....At the same time, the Taliban remains a threat. They've gained ground in some cases, they've continued attacks and suicide bombings, including in Kabul."

(Obama did not mention Islamic State fighters, who also have spread into Afghanistan.)

"As president and commander in chief, I've made it clear that I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again," Obama said. "That's why at times I've made adjustments, for example by slowing the drawdown of our forces and more recently, by giving U.S. forces more flexibility to support Afghan forces on the ground and in the air."

Based on the recommendations of his military commanders and others, Obama said he was "announcing an additional adjustment to our posture."

"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 said the U.S. troops will continue to focus on their "narrow mission," which is to support Afghan forces and go after terrorists.

"Maintaining our forces at this specific level...will allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve."

In December 2014, President Obama announced that America's combat mission in Afghanistan had come to a "responsible end." But on Wednesday, Obama said although "we are no longer engaged in a major ground war," 38 Americans have lost their lives in Afghanistan in the past year and a half.

The time-table Obama laid out in May 2014 called for a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops, with the current 9,800 to be cut to a "normal embassy presence" by the end of 2016. But last October, Obama revised that plan, saying the 9,800 would be cut to 5,500 by the end of 2016. As of Wednesday, the number is now 8,400.

Speaking to CBS's "Meet the Press" from Afghanistan on Sunday, Sen. Graham said, "Please do not cut these troop levels in half. If you do, Afghanistan's going to become Iraq very quickly."

McCain said if Obama does cut U.S. troop levels, as he has long planned to do, the Taliban and other terrorists, including ISIS, will "take over," and "then there will be further attacks on the United States of America."

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