As the Obama administration continues to slow down its promised troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, new reporting by Reuters reveals U.S. military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad are likely to remain open beyond the end of the year.
Speaking with an unnamed senior official, Reuters reports the policy reversal "reflects the U.S. embrace of Afghanistan's new and more cooperative president, Ashraf Ghani, and a desire to avoid the kind of collapse of local security forces that occurred in Iraq after the U.S. pull-out there."
Ghani is visiting the U.S. next week, which is when officials expect for Obama to officially announce the altered timeline for military withdrawal. The White House said last May that troops would be cut to 5,500 by the end of 2015, but officials said over the weekend that the administration could allow up to 9,800 to remain in Afghanistan well into the 2016 "fighting season."
Regarding the specific bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad, Reuters continues:
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The two bases are crucial to the Pentagon because the U.S. military uses them to train, advise and assist senior Afghan commanders in charge of some of the Afghan army's six corps as well as Afghan special operations forces.
[Former Pentagon official David] Sedney said Obama's decision last fall to authorize U.S. troops to rescue Afghan forces "in extremis"—something they have not needed to do this year -- and to keep extra soldiers in Afghanistan this year to make up for a shortfall from NATO partners were the first signs of a change in his approach.
The first senior official also told Reuters that the U.S. military might also maintain an "aerial presence" in Afghanistan past 2017.