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US to keep 9800 troops in Afghanistan into 2016: White House

Sydney Morning Herald - March 25, 2015

Roberta Rampton, Washington The United States will maintain its current 9800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015, the White House said on Tuesday after US President Barack Obama met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his "chief executive", Abdullah Abdullah.

"Based on President Ghani's request for flexibility in the US drawdown timeline, the US will maintain its current posture of 9800 troops through the end of 2015," the White House said.

"The specific trajectory of the 2016 US troop drawdown will be established later in 2015 to enable the US troop consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence by the end of 2016," it added.

Dr Ghani became Afghanistan's president last year and enjoys much smoother relations with Washington than his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

Mr Obama said last year that by the end of 2015, US forces in Afghanistan would be reduced to about half of the current levels. But more recently, US officials have said the improved relationship with Afghan leaders contributed to military officials revising their plans.

Some legislators had also called for a slower drawdown of troop levels. Mac Thornberry, a Republican who leads the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said the decision announced on Tuesday was "appropriate".

"Iraq has shown us the consequences of leaving a fragile ally too early," he said. "The bottom line is that our own security is at stake."

In Afghanistan, as many as 13 people were killed on one of the country's most important roads on Tuesday when gunmen opened fire on a bus and two other vehicles.

The episode is the latest in a series of attacks on the highway connecting Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar. Twelve men and a woman were killed, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the attackers were not connected to the Taliban.

Last month, about 30 bus passengers, most or all of them members of the Hazara ethnic minority, were abducted along the same highway. Their fate remains unknown, as does the precise identity of their kidnappers, despite attempts by the Afghan military to find them.

Just 12 hours before the attack on Tuesday, on the same highway, in Ghazni province about 150 kilometres to the south, a driver and three passengers were also shot to death, said the deputy governor of Ghazni, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi.

Mr Ahmadi said that one of the passengers was the son of a government official on Afghanistan's peace council and appeared to have been targeted.

A prominent Afghan police official was sacked on Tuesday after his Facebook comments justifying the murder of a woman falsely accused of burning a Koran.

The woman, named Farkhunda, was beaten to death with planks of wood and set on fire by a crowd in front of police officers close to the presidential palace, ministries and foreign embassies.

Protesters in Kabul painted their faces red on Tuesday to represent Farkhunda's bloodied face as filmed by mobile phones as she was beaten to death.

"We have come here to tell the government of Afghanistan that we will no longer be satisfied with superficial narratives," said Afghanistan's former spy chief, Amrullah Saleh, who was at the protest. "We have come here to register a very deep sense of anger and frustration with the process of reform."

The country's top investigator has said there is no evidence Farkhunda burned a Koran. Her brother says a cleric made the accusation at his mosque after Farkhunda told a woman not to pay for "lucky" amulets because they were un-Islamic.

Dr Ghani has ordered an inquiry into her killing and dozens of people have been arrested, including more than 20 police officers. (Reuters, New York Times)

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-to-keep-9800-troops-in-afghanistan-into-2016-white-house-20150325-1m6xkf.html.

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