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U.S. To Slow Its Afghan Troop Withdrawal

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani address a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on March 24.

President Barack Obama says the United States will slow down its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and maintain its current number of 9,800 troops until the end of the year.

After talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House on March 24, Obama explained his decision not to cut the number of troops to some 5,500 by the end of the 2015, as was originally planned, by saying that "Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place."

Obama added that the number of U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan at the end of 2016 will be determined later this year.

But he said the goal is to "enable the U.S. troop consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence" by the end of 2016.

Ghani expressed a desire for the United States to slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan as Kabul's nascent security forces continue to battle a strong Islamist insurgency made up largely of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Obama said Washington wants to ensure it is doing everything possible "to help Afghan security forces succeed so we don't have to go back" to Afghanistan.

He also said the White House will work with Congress to help fund some "352,000 Afghan police and troops through 2017" and added that U.S. and Afghan forces "will continue to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations."

Ghani, speaking after Obama, thanked the U.S. military for their service in Afghanistan, saying that "tragedy brough us together; interests now unite us."

Ghani said the slower withdrawal of U.S. forces would allow Afghanistan to "accelerate reforms [and] ensure that the Afghan national security forces are much better led, equipped, trained, and are focused on their fundamental mission."

He added that the withdrawal of some 120,000 international troops from Afghanistan in recent years "has not brought about the security gap or collapse that was often anticipated."

There have been reports of Afghan security forces suffering heavy casualties and of desertions and other problems since foreign combat forces finished their withdrawal at the end of 2014.

The United States led an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that overthrew the Taliban government.

Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah are on a three-day official visit to Washington highlighted by meetings with Obama and on March 23 with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Camp David presidential retreat outside of Washington.

Ghani joined U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Vice President Joe Biden at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery where the Afghan leader laid a wreath.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters