The US’s longest war will wind down even more slowly than promised after confirmed another delay in the withdrawal timetable for troops in Afghanistan.
“We are moving the drawdown pace over to the right,” he said in a press conference with the Afghan president, , who had flown to Washington to request additional support in dealing with continued insurgent attacks in the country.
The White House had previously pledged to reduce the remaining 9,800 troops in the country to 5,500-by the end of 2015 – a force it insists is no longer involved in a “combat role”.
After the widely expected announcement on Tuesday, it will now maintain this higher level for rest of this year and also is re-evaluating how fast it will bring this down to a residual 1,000-strong “embassy protection” force envisaged when Obama leaves the White House.
Though down from a peak of 100,000 four years ago, the decision to keep double the number of anticipated troops in the country this year is a far cry from that the US would be gone by 2014 “come hell or high water”.
But it is consistent with a pattern of slipping targets as security has remained elusive and the White House fears a repeat of its experience in Iraq, where it has been forced to redeploy troops despite the promised full withdrawal which helped first get Obama elected.
Earlier on Tuesday in Afghanistan, , once a stronghold of the Taliban.
Ghani – who, unlike his predecessor Hamid Karzai, arrived at the White House in a suit and repeatedly thanked his hosts for their “support” – argued that the US continued to have a strong interest in maintaining security.
“Tragedy brought us together, but interests now unite us,” he said, arguing that the was on the “frontline” of protecting the US.
“Fortresses cannot be built around countries and continents; we live in a connected world and our security rests together,” added Ghani, who began the press conference by thanking American taxpayers.
Obama stressed the lower casualty rate since US troops moved toward supporting Afghan forces rather than engaging directly in combat.
“It has been over 90 days since two Americans were killed in Afghanistan,” he said. “As we have drawn down, they have stood up and they are fighting.”
Ghani, who was once mistakenly referred to as Karzai by Obama during the hourlong press conference, also insisted that an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process” would eventually bring peace with the Taliban.
“We have the capacity to speak truth to terror,” he said. “They don’t speak for Islam; we do.”