US to keep troops in Afghanistan

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President Obama announced Tuesday that the U.S. will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, after the U.S. combat mission ends in 2014, a senior administration official said.  

That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, the official said. And by the end of 2016, U.S. forces would be reduced to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, ending more than a decade of heavy U.S. troop involvement in the country where the Sept. 11, 2001 plot was hatched.

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In a statement, the senior administration official said that the troops in Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016 would be on "narrow missions," including training Afghan forces and supporting "operations against the remnants of al Qaeda."

The announcement ends months of speculation over how many troops the president would authorize to continue training Afghan forces and conducting a counterterrorism mission there after 2014.

Military officials had publicly said they needed at least 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda. 

The president's figure falls just below that number but signals a compromise between military recommendations and administration officials who argued for a much smaller presence of several thousand, or no, U.S. troops, and drawing the presence down by 2017.

Republicans said they were pleased that the administration had gone along with the request from military commanders, even as they questioned whether a troop level of less than 10,000 would meet U.S. commitments. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he looked forward to "hearing more specifics on how the proposed troop number will adequately cover the defined missions as well as provide appropriate force protection for our military and civilian personnel."

The statement made clear that the U.S. would sustain that military presence only if the incoming Afghan president signs a bilateral security agreement (BSA) on the terms under which U.S. troops would stay.

Over the weekend, the White House circulated stories from two local Afghan new outlets to U.S. journalists indicating that the two remaining presidential candidates would sign the agreement upon entering office.

"Assuming a BSA is signed, at the beginning of 2015, we will have 9,800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners," the statement said.

This story was updated at 1:36 p.m.

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