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World

Obama Slows Withdrawal Of U.S. Troops From Afghanistan Again

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama is tapping the brakes on a planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He had hoped to pull nearly half the remaining American forces out before leaving office, but today he announced some 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan into next year. The president cited the precarious security situation there and said the U.S. cannot allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven again for terrorists.

In a moment we'll get a firsthand account of the dangers facing the Afghan military in Helmand Province. First here's NPR's Scott Horsley from the White House.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Having inherited the Afghan war from his predecessor, President Obama didn't want to pass it on to yet another U.S. president. But the Taliban and others have proven to be stubborn enemies, and Obama says Afghan Security Forces are not yet strong enough to stand on their own despite years of U.S. training. The president is accepting a recommendation from the Pentagon to leave several thousand more troops in Afghanistan even after he leaves office.

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BARACK OBAMA: I strongly believe that it is in our national security interest, especially after all the blood and treasure we've invested in Afghanistan over the years, that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed.

HORSLEY: The announcement of the higher troop levels comes as the president's preparing for a NATO summit later this week. NATO has already promised to keep funding Afghan Security Forces through 2020, and Obama will encourage NATO members to do more.

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OBAMA: Many of our allies and partners have already stepped forward with commitments of troops and funding so that we can keep strengthening Afghan forces through the end of this decade. The NATO summit will be an opportunity for more allies and partners to affirm their contributions, and I'm confident they will.

HORSLEY: More than 6,000 international troops are already serving alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but the country remains dangerous. A Pentagon report to Congress last month said the Afghan people feel less secure than at any time in recent history, and the U.N. says the Taliban holds more territory now than it has in over a decade.

In addition of the higher troop numbers, Obama has authorized the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban and to accompany Afghan troops in ground combat.

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OBAMA: This is where al-Qaida is trying to regroup. This is where ISIL continues to try to expand its presence. If these terrorists succeed in regaining areas and camps where they can train and plot, they will attempt more attacks against us.

HORSLEY: Obama's announcement drew criticism from congressional Republicans. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, says while he welcomes the higher troop levels, the president still lacks a broader strategy for the region.

For his part, Obama said few Americans imagined when the war began that U.S. troops would still be serving in Afghanistan nearly 15 years later. As Obama eyes the final months of his own term, America's longest war shows no sign of ending. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.