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Obama Mulls Once Again Delaying Afghanistan Withdrawal As Conditions Deteriorate

Although the U.S. and NATO combat mission is officially over, defense officials have questioned the pace at which troops are set to withdraw from Afghanistan amid reports of a gaining Taliban and ISIS expansion.

Army Gen. John F. Campbell may soon have the authority to rethink plans to close the Kandahar Airfield base and determine the speed at which troops are pulled out, The Washington Post reports. As one option, Campbell might keep 5,500 troops stationed in Afghanistan at the end of 2015.

“The defining elements of the plan are more or less intact,” an anonymous senior administration official told The Washington Post. “All we’re looking at at this point is either variations within those or subtle variations of [the framework].”

Former senior Pentagon official David S. Sedney stated that Afghan forces have already been badly beaten by the Taliban, and so accelerating the withdrawal pace in 2015 will result in catastrophe.

The United States ended its combat presence in Afghanistan as of December 2014, and plans exist to withdraw the remainder of troops currently in training and support roles by 2016. But the Pentagon has adjusted the schedule before. Just in December, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that 10,800 troops would remain behind in early 2015, instead of the 9,800 earlier planned.

In his first American television interview back in January, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the U.S. needs to reconsider its current plans, arguing that “deadlines should not be dogmas,” since local Afghan forces simply aren’t ready to take on new burdens. For Ghani, the proposed withdrawal schedule is far too quick, and so as of late, defense officials are starting to craft new objectives.

recent Gallup poll indicated that almost 40 percent of Afghans think they’ll be worse off when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw. The Taliban has stepped up its activities, making 2014 a very deadly year for civilians. Approximately 46 percent of Afghans expect the Taliban to grow in size upon withdrawal.

When asked by the Senate Armed Services Committee, incoming Secretary of Defense Ash Carter agreed with the possibility of renegotiating the timeline of withdrawal, depending on if security conditions deteriorate considerably. Carter is well-aware of the movements of ISIS near the Afghanistan border. Military commanders have previously complained to Congress that setting a hard-line date in the sand for withdrawal gives away too much information to the enemy.

Defense officials are scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to further hammer out feasible alternatives to a withdrawal speed that many have called into question.

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