U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that the United States will keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of his administration early next year, slowing the planned drawdown of the American military presence in the country.
Announcing the decision from the White House on July 6, Obama said the security situation in Afghanistan was "precarious."
He said the Taliban remains a "threat" in the country and that Afghan government security forces are still not as strong as they need to be.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Obama's decision, saying on Twitter that it shows “continued partnership [between] our nations to pursue our common interests."
Obama had previously planned to drop troop levels from the current 9,800 to 5,500 troops by the end of 2016, but Washington has been forced to wrestle with its exit strategy as Afghan forces continue to struggle against a resurgent Taliban.
According to recent UN estimates, the extremist group currently controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001.
"It is in our national security interest -- especially after all the blood and treasure we've invested in Afghanistan over the years -- that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed," Obama said while standing next to top U.S. military leaders.
The decision will leave the planned troop levels in place until Obama's successor takes office in January 2017.
"The decision I'm making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for progress in Afghanistan, as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves," he said.
Obama, who came to the White House in 2009 pledging wind down the nation's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the role of American forces in Afghanistan would remain the same -- advising and training Afghan security forces and backing counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and other armed groups.
"We are no longer engaged in a major ground war in Afghanistan," he said.
Obama's announcement follows a call last month from a group of former U.S. ambassadors and commanders in Afghanistan to "freeze" the current troop level at 9,800 through the end of his presidency.
"l firmly believe the decision I'm announcing is the right thing to do," the president said.
"The United States has maintained a steadfast commitment to our Afghan partners, and President Obama's decision today is firmly in keeping with that enduring commitment," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP