US plans no Afghan changes after fall of Kunduz

US plans no Afghan changes after fall of Kunduz
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White House and Pentagon officials denounced on Tuesday a Taliban takeover of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, but said it was too early to know if it would change U.S. plans to drawdown troops from the country by the end of next year.

"We strongly condemn the attacks in Kunduz, and stand with the Afghan people in our commitment to Afghanistan's peace and security," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters onboard Air Force One.

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“At this point, I don’t have any sort of immediate indication this will change the long-term strategy that is in place in Afghanistan," he said. Earnest said Afghan forces have already begun the battle to reclaim the city and have retaken several government buildings.

Gen. John CampbellJohn Bayard Taylor CampbellHigh stakes in Nigeria's elections for impoverished citizenry — and US interests North Carolina county school board ends spanking policy General: 'Afghanistan is at an inflection point' MORE, the top commander in Afghanistan, has reportedly forwarded to the Pentagon and coalition officials alternative options to the White House's current plan to drawdown forces from 9,800 currently to a few hundred next year.

Critics of that plan are pressuring the White House suspend or reverse the withdrawal given a persistent threat from the Taliban, and a growing one from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Afghanistan.

Earnest said the U.S. would continue to "work closely" with the Afghan government and coalition partners to ensure that Afghan forces "have the capabilities and training necessary to preserve the gains" made over the last 13 years.

And Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, "we're going to continue everything we can to encourage them in those efforts."

However, Cook also said there were no plans to offer Afghan forces air support in the face of the threat, justifying a single U.S. airstrike near Kunduz Tuesday morning as necessary for the protection of coalition troops who were advising Afghan forces nearby.

"In Afghanistan, the U.S. strike on the outskirts of Kunduz was a force protection strike conducted by an F-16 against a Taliban target that was advancing toward the airport and presenting a threat to U.S. and coalition personnel," Cook said later.

But, he said, coalition personnel are in the area training and providing support as needed to Afghan forces. The Pentagon is also assisting with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage, he added. 

Cook acknowledged the assault was "clearly a setback" for Afghan security forces, but said the Pentagon had "confidence" in their ability to take on the Taliban in Kunduz. He later said Afghan forces have "amassed a sizeable force to retake city, numbering in the thousands."

"The situation in Kunduz remains fluid, and we are continuing to follow the situation closely, but we have confidence in the Afghan national security forces,” Earnest said.

The administration announced the end of the War in Afghanistan last December. Since then, four U.S. service members have been killed in combat-related incidents. 

 

-- Updated 9:30 p.m. ET