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The United States will delay the withdrawal of up to 1,000 troops from Afghanistan in 2015, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday during a visit to Kabul. In a change to the drawdown schedule, he said the number of American forces staying behind would fall only to 10,800 troops at the start of next year, rather than 9,800 as originally planned. However, the U.S. still intends to scale back to 5,500 troops in 2016 and reduce to an embassy presence in 2017, he said.

Hagel, who resigned Nov. 24, will met new President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in what is likely to be his last visit as Pentagon chief. His arrival on Saturday morning came hours after President Barack Obama announced that he will nominate Ashton Carter as the new Defense Secretary. In remarks to reporters flying with him, Hagel was strikingly upbeat about prospects for long-term stability in the country whose previous Taliban rulers sheltered al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.


- Alastair Jamieson