Obama: US to leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan

President Obama on Wednesday announced he’s slowing the pace of the withdrawal for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 
 
Obama said he will leave 8,400 troops in the war-torn country, an announcement he made in the Roosevelt Room alongside Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 
 
ADVERTISEMENT
“I strongly believe it is in our national security interest … that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed,” Obama said. 
 
“Maintaining our forces as this specific level will allow us to continue to provide tailored support to help Afghan forces continue to improve.”

There are currently 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a number previously set to be reduced to 5,500 next year. 

Obama announced last October that he was reversing his pledge to bring back almost all service members before he leaves office in January 2017. The shift came in response to the persistent threats posed by Taliban militants and the nascent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
 
The latest troop decision follows a move to allow U.S. troops more authorities on the battlefield to defend Afghan troops, including providing close air support and accompanying conventional Afghan forces onto the battlefield. Previously, U.S. forced had only accompanied Afghan special operations units. 

The president acknowledged that the conflict in Afghanistan has been difficult to wind down. 

“The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” he said, adding that while Afghan forces fighting the Taliban have improved, they are “not as strong as they need to be.”
 
Combat operations were formally ended in December 2014, but U.S. troops there are tasked with training and advising Afghan forces and carrying out counterterrorism operations against groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.
 
Senior administration officials did not clarify how the reduction of 1,400 forces would affect either mission, but said the "balance" between both missions would be maintained. 
 
Of the 9,800 troops currently in Afghanistan, 7,008 are dedicated to the train, advise and assist mission, according to the Defense Department.
 
The "slight reduction" in forces reflect the lessons learned since the end of the U.S. combat mission, said a senior administration official. 

The president’s announcement came one day before he’s scheduled to travel to Poland for a NATO summit. The alliance said last month that it plans to keep troops in Afghanistan into next year. 

Another senior administration official said the White House expected the decision "will be very welcomed by our NATO allies" and lead to a "more constructive discussion" at the NATO summit. 
 
The U.S. provides the bulk of the logistical support in Afghanistan, which would enable international troops to remain. There are currently about 6,000 international troops in Afghanistan. 

Obama has long faced pressure from lawmakers and military brass to keep a larger number of troops in Afghanistan, and on Wednesday, he said he accepted those recommendations.

A bipartisan group of senators wrote a letter to Obama in May urging him to make a decision ahead of the summit meeting in Warsaw. 
 
“[A] timely decision on U.S. force levels is necessary so that our allies and partners can generate forces and make appropriate pledges for the Resolute Support Mission beginning in January 2017,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE (R-Ariz.) and eight others wrote. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest called on Congress to provide adequate funding for the country's military presence in Afghanistan but would not say if it will propose a supplemental spending request.

"I would expect that we would see constructive engagement on behalf of Congress … to pay for this policy decision," he told reporters. "That is their responsibility, we expect them to fulfill it.”  

Some lawmakers are calling for the White House to submit a request for additional funding.

“For all of the bluster about funding troops in harm's way, it is the President who proposes to extend the vital mission without any resources behind it. The White House must submit a supplemental funding request to accommodate troop levels in Afghanistan immediately," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement. 

Obama's decision will leave a mark on his presidential legacy. 

He was elected to office in 2008 promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he’s been forced to confront militant groups who have continued to wreak havoc in both countries. 
 
The president said he believes maintaining U.S. troop levels “is the right thing to do for Afghanistan,” because it will help prevent the country from becoming a “safe haven” for terrorist groups to launch an attack on the U.S. — like al Qaeda did on Sept. 11, 2001.  
 
But his announcement is another reminder of the administration’s broken promise to withdraw
 
In 2010, Vice President Biden vowed that American service members would be “totally out of” Afghanistan by 2014.
 
"We're starting it in July of 2011, and we're going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014," Biden said during an interview with NBC News. 
 
— Kristina Wong contributed to this report, which was updated at 2 p.m.