WASHINGTON • The United States military will slow its withdrawal from Afghanistan, keeping thousands of troops in the war-ravaged country till 2017, President Barack Obama was set to announce yesterday.
The shift in Mr Obama's planning marks the latest delay to his plans to get out of a war that has raged for 14 years.
Under the Obama administra-tion's revised plans, the current 9,800-strong US force will stay for much of 2016, dropping to about 5,500 at the end of next year or in early 2017, administration officials said ahead of Mr Obama's announcement yesterday.
Mr Obama is giving up on his hopes of bringing nearly all American troops home by the end of his term in January 2017, after intense fighting in Afghanistan.
The move hints at scepticism that Afghan troops can hold their ground against the Taleban, which two weeks ago captured the city of Kunduz in its biggest military victory since the 2001 US-led invasion.
A swift response by US-trained Afghan security forces led to an eventual Taleban retreat from Kunduz.
An administration official said Mr Obama was making his announcement "as a result of an extensive, months-long review, and in consultation with his full national security team and our Afghan partners".
The 5,500 troops that will remain late next year or in early 2017 will stay at a small number of bases, including at Bagram Airfield - the largest US military base in the country - Jalalabad in the east, and Kandahar in the south.
But a senior official stressed that the troops would not have a combat role. "This announcement in no way changes the fact that our combat mission in Afghanistan has ended, and we will continue to undertake only two narrow missions: counter-terrorism and training, advising and assisting our Afghan partners," the official said.
The news came after a series of setbacks, including a US air strike on Oct 3 on a hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders that killed at least 14 staff and 10 patients, with nine others still unaccounted for.
"Certainly we're watching and seeing how the Afghan security forces engage quite tenaciously in the fight in Kunduz," an official said.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission after 13 years of war at the end of last year, and Afghan troops have since been in charge of the nation's security, with help from US and Nato troops.
US military and administration officials have been discussing a slower timetable since the March visit to the White House of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, officials.
"The Afghan government is very comfortable with this commitment. They've been indicating a desire for this commitment for some time," an official said.
Nato allies also have indicated some interest in sustaining their presence, the official said. There are more than 6,000 non-US forces in Afghanistan as part of the "Resolute Support"mission.
Responding to the move, Russia's Foreign Ministry said it doubted the US decision would ease the situation in the country, RIA news agency reported.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS