Washington, Oct 15: The US is not leaving Afghanistan, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said, while asserting that such a narrative is "self-defeating".
"The narrative that we're leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating. We're not. We can't, and to do so would not be to take advantage of the success had to date," Carter said at a luncheon hosted by the Association of the US Army Sustaining here yesterday.
The US, he said, is in the process of formulating options for 2016 and beyond, and make adjustments to the planned American presence based on current circumstances.
"It's not a question of whether, but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan, and last week, it became clear that our NATO allies feel the same way, as they told me. Many of my counterparts made a point of reaffirming their commitment, too," he said.
"When I submit my 2017 budget, I will include critical financial support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to help it sustain its force levels of 352,000 troops in 2017 and beyond," he said. Thanks in large part, to the Army's work through 'Resolute Support', Afghan forces have proven themselves to be very capable fighters who are able to provide security in Afghanistan.
They performed admirably through two tense elections, clearing operations in northern Helmand and countering the Taliban's spring offensive, the defense secretary said. That said, Taliban advances in parts of the country underscore the reality that this is, and remains, a difficult fight, he noted.
"We understand that Afghanistan still needs assistance, and Resolute Support is working closely with the ANDSF and Afghan security ministries to ensure that they're prepared to set the conditions for Afghan-led stability in this vital region," Carter said.
"No one can do this better than the Army, which has learned a lot about counterterrorism operations, local forces training and related operational skills over the course of two wars, and is best equipped to establish a lasting and effective platform in Afghanistan," the Defense Secretary said.