Extra 1,000 US troops to stay in Afghanistan next year
The US defense secretary Chuck Hagel on a visit to the Afghan capital Kabul has said that up to 1,000 US troops will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan as planned.
The extra troops will cover a temporary shortfall in NATO forces as the vast majority of them leave Afghanistan for good at the end of 2014.
“President Obama has provided US military commanders the flexibility to manage any temporary force shortfall that we might experience for a few months as we allow for coalition troops to arrive in theatre," Hagel told reporters.
Hagel’s visit, which was unannounced, came just weeks before the official end to the NATO-led combat mission in the country, which began in 2001.The call comes during the worst spike in violence since 2001 and a number of bloody attacks on the capital.
“I have confidence that the Afghan security forces have the capacity to defend Kabul,” Hagel told reporters before landing in Kabul.
As of the beginning of November 4,600 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed this year, six percent more than over the same period last year.
Such a high number of Afghan deaths is seen as unsustainable and also raises questions about what will happen to the 10,800 US forces that will now remain behind to oversee security next year.
According to earlier plan, US troop numbers are expected drop to 5,500 by the end of 2015 and to 1,000 by the beginning of 2017, and Hagel insisted that the drawdown would be stuck to.
“I don’t see any strategic or major shift in policy,” he said, although he conceded that there would also have to be “wide flexibility” to adjust troop numbers troop numbers and locations within the withdrawal timetable.
The withdrawal of the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan has drawn criticism, especially from Republican’s, who argue that the gains made against the Taliban will be lost and the country will fall into sectarian violence in the same way that Iraq did when US forces left the country.
But Hagel has said that comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan are not valid and that the Afghans want US forces to stay there.
Despite the 13 year security operation in Afghanistan, the Taliban have become increasingly bold in their tactics and still control several districts across the country.
Some senior US military and intelligence officials have expressed their doubts of the ability of Afghan forces which are plagued by corruption and are completely relianton US air and intelligence support, to beat the Taliban.
Hagel will meet Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, as well as General John Campbell the top commander of US and collation forces in Afghanistan.
More than 2,300 Americans have died and 20,000 wounded in the Afghan war.