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Top US general: Delay Afghan withdrawal as long as possible

Top US general: Delay Afghan withdrawal as long as possible

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan says he wants to again delay the drawdown of troops in that country because security there remains tenuous.

"My intent would be to keep as much as I could for as long as I could," Gen. John CampbellJohn Bayard Taylor CampbellGeneral: 'Afghanistan is at an inflection point' Obama taps new Afghan commander as security deteriorates Top US general: Delay Afghan withdrawal as long as possible MORE, commander of the U.S. and coalition forces, said in a USA Today interview published late Tuesday night. "At some point it becomes physics. I'm going to have to get them out."

Right now, the plan is to hold steady at 9,800 U.S. troops through 2016 and draw down to 5,500 in 2017.

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Campbell said that we wants the reduction to be held off as long as possible to continue building up Afghan security forces and keep terrorist groups from establishing stronger footholds in the nation.

"If we don't stay engaged here to build their capacity to fight this, keep sanctuary down, it's coming back to the homeland," Campbell said. "So it's pay a little bit now, build the capability, and keep this an away game as opposed to a home game."

The current timeline for troop withdrawal is itself a delay. President Obama announced the new plan in October after a resurgent Taliban made some gains and Afghan security forces proved unready to protect the country.

A Pentagon report released early December found “overall security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated” in the second half of 2015. The report also warned Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) loyalists in the Nangarhar province are gaining strength.

Last week, six U.S. troops were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Bagram. And Afghan forces are fighting the Taliban for control of a strategic district in the southern province of Helmand.

Campbell told USA Today he will soon be in Washington to brief senior leaders on the security situation and the troop levels he needs. He didn't elaborate, citing the classified nature of the briefings.

In the past, Campbell said, Obama has been receptive to his requests.

“My job as commander on the ground is to continually make assessments," Campbell said. "Every time I've gone to the president and said, 'I need X,' I've been very, very fortunate that he's provided that. So he's been very flexible. It's actually been conditions based as we've gone forward.”

In 2016, Campbell said, Afghan forces will need to devise a better system to drive down attrition rates, take to the fight to the Taliban instead of manning checkpoints, root out bad commanders and do a better job of recruiting.

"I think this will drive the Taliban to the peace table," Campbell said. "If they don't do those things, it's going to be a tough fighting season."