U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 may not happen after all.
Carter, who was sworn into the position on Feb. 17, made the statement in a news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Ghani supports a reevaluation of the U.S. role in the country, as he has expressed his desire to see U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan to continue to train and assist soldiers there in combat.
“Our priority now is to make sure this progress sticks. That is why President (Barack) Obama is considering a number of options to reinforce our support for President Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to the time line for our drawdown of U.S. troops,” said Carter.
Following Ghani’s election last year, the U.S. and Afghanistan both agreed on U.S. forces staying in Afghanistan past December 2014, the original date for withdrawal.
The new plan currently in place states that 11,000 American troops will stay in Afghanistan to assist in training and support for the Afghan army. By 2016, the number will be cut in half to 5,500, and in 2017, the plan will leave enough soldiers behind to create an embassy, rather than continue combat operations.
Carter took over the position from Chuck Hagel. He has a lengthy resume, including top level jobs with the Pentagon, a stint as a Harvard professor, and as a technological analyst in Congress.
The war in Afghanistan remains a costly and controversial one. Now in its 14th year, the war has claimed 2,300 American lives and cost the U.S. around $65 billion. This year, the U.S. and its allies will pay 65 percent of Afghanistan's budget.