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President Obama Holds First Meeting With Afghan President

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama is postponing the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The White House had planned to pull more than 4,000 service members out of that country this year. But this afternoon, the president announced the U.S. will maintain its current troop strength through the end of 2015. The announcement came during a White House news conference with the new president of Afghanistan. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been urging the U.S. not to withdraw troops from his country too quickly. The U.S. military presence there has already shrunk by 90 percent from its peak a few years ago. After a meeting with Ghani at the White House today, Obama said the nearly 10,000 troops still in the country will stay through the end of this year.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help Afghan security forces succeed so we don't have to go back.

HORSLEY: Obama still plans to withdraw most of the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan at some point during 2016, making good on his promise to end America's longest war. In a 50-minute White House news conference this afternoon, Obama also offered condolences to the victims of today's airline crash in the French Alps, and he addressed the diplomatic break with Israel over last week's pre-election comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama insists this is more than a personality clash, though that's often the way it's portrayed in the media. He says by claiming before the election that there won't be a Palestinian state on his watch, Netanyahu had challenged a long-established goal of U.S.-Middle East policy. And Obama says the prime minister's efforts since the election to walk back his comments haven't changed that.

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OBAMA: This can't be reduced to a matter of somehow let's all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." This is a matter of figuring out, how do we get through a real knotty policy difference that has great consequences for both countries and for the region?

HORSLEY: Obama stressed the U.S. military and security cooperation with Israel will continue, but, he added, the U.S. will have to reassess its public diplomacy. The widening breach with Israel is in contrast to Obama's warming relations with the new Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, a technocrat who studied, like Obama, at Columbia University. Unlike his predecessor Hamid Karzai, who often seemed to bristle at U.S. involvement in his country, offered outspoken thanks for U.S. military help.

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PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI: You stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us and I'd like to say thank you. I would also like to thank the American taxpayer.

HORSLEY: Obama stressed that Afghanistan's own forces are now in the lead militarily. But the commander-in-chief acknowledged even though Americans are no longer on the front lines in Afghanistan, the revised drawdown schedule will mean more sacrifice for service members and their families.

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OBAMA: This will mean that there are going to be some of our folks who are in Afghanistan under the new schedule who would've been home.

HORSLEY: And the president warned Afghanistan remains a dangerous place. Scott Horsley, NPR News the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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