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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Obama to Keep Troops in Afghanistan

Jul. 7, 2016

US President Barack Obama has once again revised his exit strategy for Afghanistan. He is leaving more US troops in the country than planned.

Obama said it is due to deteriorating security and the upcoming change of administration in the US.

"The decision I'm making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for continued progress in Afghanistan, as well as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves," Obama said.

There are 9,800 US troops helping Afghan forces maintain security. Last year, Obama said he would cut the number to 5,500 by the end of 2016.

Now he says the number will be kept at 8,400 through his departure from office next January. Obama said it's in the interest of US national security to give Afghanistan the very best opportunity to succeed in taking over its own security.

He said he was prompted to revise the plan by the resurgence of the Taliban and other security concerns.

Obama and other leaders will meet this week in Poland for the NATO summit, where the situation in Afghanistan is expected to be on the agenda.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani has welcomed Obama's decision. He released a statement saying the new policy indicates that the 2 countries will continue their cooperative relationship.


US Involvement in Afghanistan

Obama initially pledged to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan during his presidency. However, he has changed his exit strategy again and again.

The US attacked Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

When Obama was sworn in as US President in 2009, he took over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He pledged to end both before leaving office.

"We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," Obama said at the time.

However, he sent more US troops into Afghanistan. The number surged to nearly 100,000 in 2010.

The following year, the US began to gradually pull troops out. Obama's initial plan was to remove all US forces by the end of 2016, before leaving office.

But deteriorating security forced him to rethink his pledge last year.

"I've decided to maintain our current posture of 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, 2016," Obama said. "We will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases, including Bagram, Jalalabad in the east, Kandahar in the south."

Nine months later, Obama has just revised his plan again. This time it will have implications for the next US president.


Daisaku Higashi, an associate professor at Sophia University, joined anchor Sho Beppu in the studio.

Beppu: Well we hear once again that Obama's exit strategy has been revised. We do know that numbers of American forces have been changing. I understand that these are the figures. What can we read from this ups and downs?

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Higashi: Obama was inaugurated in 2009, so actually surged a bit to make some political and military gain in Afghanistan. But after 2011, he continued to reduce US forces. Originally he wanted to withdraw all of the forces by 2016 when he finished his presidency. But maybe he needed to decide to keep some level of US forces even after he leaves office because of the security issues.

Beppu: How about the role of these forces. Is it changing?

Higashi:He ostensibly argued that all combat forces were finished at the end of 2014. But in recent years, in the capital in the northern part of the Afghanistan, Kunduz, was taken over by the Taliban. And after that, the US needed to engage with Afghanistan to take over Kunduz again. And also US forces just killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mansour, last month by using their forces. So in reality, they still have some engagement in military combat.

Beppu: So they're not called combat forces but they are engaged in combat activities.

Higashi: Yes.

Beppu: Right. This second revision that was announced yesterday, does that show how bad the security situation in Afghanistan is?

Higashi: I think so, yes. Many analysts estimate that 70 percent of territory in Afghanistan is now controlled by the insurgency, mainly by the Taliban. And moreover, president Obama continued to insist that he wanted to solve the Afghan conflict by initiating or endorsing a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But now we don't see so much perspective that this political process can be realized before he ends his presidency.

Beppu: But he repeated that point again in yesterday's announcement, didn't he? Let's listen to what he said.

"I will say it again. The only way to end this conflict and to achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That's the only way. And that is why the United States will continue to strongly support an Afghan-led reconciliation process."
Barack Obama / US president

Beppu: So do you think that he revised his exit strategy for the sake of giving a chance to political negotiation.

Higashi: I think he was quite consistent that the only way to solve the Afghan conflict is a political one, not a military one. But at the same time, I think he has some pressure from the military side of the government that if the United States withdraws almost all forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year, Afghanistan actually might be taken over by the Taliban militarily, not by the political solution. So maybe this is one reason why he thinks he needs to keep some forces, so the US has some leverage on both the Afghan government and the Taliban to have some political negotiations.

Beppu: So do you think it would be as he said, that he would hand over the situation to the next administration. But in fact, what can the next administration do?

Higashi: In terms of Donald Trump, who is one of the candidates for the presidency, we7re not quite sure, to be honest. We don't know what the stance is of Donald Trump on Afghan policies. In terms of Hillary Clinton, I think she will follow President Obama's policy, basically. But I look at this issue in the last 10 years, and I think Obama was one of the most strong candidates, not only candidate but advocate for the political process in Afghanistan. So if it is difficult for Mr. Obama, it's going to be difficult for Hillary as well.

Beppu: I just can't stop wondering, well I suppose that it's too early to wrap up President Obama's presidency. He's still there. He's still in the middle of his presidency. But it's almost 8 years, and I can' stop wondering how difficult it is for him, for his administration alone to overcome all of the problems created by his previous administration. What is your view?

Higashi:I think it's a very important point. The Bush administration the war against Iraq in 2003 and also started the war with Afghanistan in 2001. When Obama took the presidency, there were almost 200,000 US forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's true that he has withdrawn almost all of the US forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. It could be one of Mr. Obama's achievements. But in terms of rebuilding the state in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the challenge still remains. And this is a historical lesson that we need to learn, about how it's difficult to rebuild a state after some country might invade or attack and change the regime.