Under the guise of a transfer of power, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday new "flexibility" in the U.S. military's drawdown plan in Afghanistan, scrapping previous pledges made to reduce troop levels by the end of the year.
During the joint address, Obama said that none of the 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn in 2015—despite his initial pledge to reduce troop levels to 5,500 during that time.
"It means some folks are going to be rotating back into Afghanistan for a few extra months," Obama said during the press briefing.
While U.S. troops would no longer be serving a "combat" role, Obama said that they will continue to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces, as well as maintain targeted counterterrorism operations, or drone strikes, in that country.
During the remarks, the U.S. president maintained that the trajectory for complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is the end of 2016. However, the Bilateral Security Agreement, signed by Ghani in September, locked in another ten years of U.S. military presence.
"Based on President Ghani’s request for flexibility in the U.S. drawdown timeline, the U.S. will maintain its current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of 2015," Obama said.
"This flexibility reflects our reinvigorated partnership with Afghanistan," Obama continued, highlighting Ghani's entreaty for U.S. troops to help maintain security and preventing Afghanistan from being used to launch terrorist attacks.
Ghani's predecessor, former President Hamid Karzai, was increasingly critical of U.S. military operations in that country, particularly its drone program, and had refused to sign the BSA.
After the September 2014 election, one of U.S.-backed Ghani's first actions was to sign the agreement, cementing his relationship with the U.S. government.
"It is quite convenient that the U.S.-backed candidate is asking the U.S. to remain on in Afghanistan—it transfers the blame for a continued occupation onto Afghanistan’s shoulders."
—Sonali Kolhatkar, Afghan Women's Mission
Critics of the U.S. occupation expressed no surprise at the new drawdown timeline.
"It is quite convenient that the U.S.-backed candidate is asking the U.S. to remain on in Afghanistan—it transfers the blame for a continued occupation onto Afghanistan’s shoulders," Sonali Kolhatkar, author and co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission, told Common Dreams.
Kolhatkar stressed that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is "untenable." She continued: "Last year, 10,000 people died, among them thousands of civilians. This was the worst violence since 2009. This is happening under U.S. occupation. Having the U.S. stay on cannot make the situation any better as it is U.S. involvement that has taken Afghanistan to the brink of utter devastation. We have ruined Afghanistan so that we can claim to save it from ruin."
And 2015 Ridenhour Book Prize winner Anand Gopal added that the agreement "implies that there's a foreseeable time when Afghanistan has a functioning government and that's just not the case. The U.S. is funding a war of attrition."
On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the U.S. would continue to fund the Afghan Security Forces at least into 2017.
"An Obama administration official declined to forecast the amount of U.S. funding that would be required in 2017 but noted that the cost in 2015 was around $4 billion and estimated to be nearly that much in 2016," Reuters reported.
During his remarks on Tuesday, Ghani specifically thanked U.S. taxpayers, as well as service member's children "for their sacrifice."