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Obama Slows Afghanistan Drawdown, Announces 8,400 Troops Will Remain

Obama said Afghanistan is a better place than it once was but insisted keeping troops there was "the right thing to do."
Image: US President Obama delivers a statement on Afghanistan at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama, surrounded by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (L) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USMC General Joseph Dunford, Jr., delivers a statement from the Roosevelt Room on Afghanistan at the White House in Washington on July 6, 2016.GARY CAMERON / Reuters

President Obama put the brakes Wednesday on the planned U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan, announcing that some 8,400 will remain there when he leaves office next year.

"I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again," Obama said, adding that over the years he has made several "adjustments" in their strategy. ""The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. I strongly believe...that it is in our national security interest that we give our Afghan partners the best opportunities to succeed."

"We are no longer engaged in a major ground war in Afghanistan," he said, but the fight is not over. “Even as they improve, Afghan security forces are still not as strong as they need to be. The Taliban remains a threat. They’ve gained ground in some cases.”

That said, the focus of the U.S. mission — training and supporting Afghan troops, counter-terrorism — remains the same, Obama added.

Obama had planned to drop troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 troops by the end of 2016. But a Taliban resurgence has forced Washington to rethink its exit strategy.

Last October, Obama announced that the mission in Afghanistan was not over as U.S. forces found themselves battling the Taliban again as well as a new threat in the country from ISIS. He had said 5,500 troops would remain in the country when he leaves the White House in 2017.

But in recent weeks the Pentagon has urged Obama to keep a more robust force in the country. He was flanked in the Roosevelt Room of the White House by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Obama heads to Poland on Thursday to meet with other NATO leaders and to reassess their Afghan and Middle East strategies.

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