Outgoing Defense Secretary Hagel says U.S. will keep up to 1,000 more soldiers than previously planned in Afghanistan into next year. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: The United States will keep up to 1,000 more soldiers than previously planned in Afghanistan into next year, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Saturday (December 6), in a recognition of the still formidable challenge from Taliban insurgents. Hagel, officially confirming a change in the U.S. drawdown schedule first reported by Reuters, said the additional troops were a temporary measure and did not change the long term timeline for withdrawing troops. He said U.S. forces in Afghanistan could fall only to 10,800 troops, rather than 9,800 as originally planned. The additional troops could stay until the first few months of 2015, while agreements were reached with other coalition partners to fill the gap, Hagel added. "But the President's authorization will not change; it will not change our troop's missions or the long-term timeline for our withdrawal," Hagel said during an unannounced trip to Afghanistan, his last as Pentagon chief. Earlier, Hagel expressed confidence in the ability of Afghan forces to defend Kabul following a spike in Taliban strikes and the US's persistence to continue to fight Taliban and al Qaeda in the region. Hagel's visit followed the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the war against Taliban militants began in 2001, and a particularly violent wave of attacks in the capital in the last two weeks. It also came just weeks before the official end of the NATO-led combat mission and a sharp reduction in western forces. As of early November, some 4,600 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed in 2014, more than six percent higher than the same period of 2013.