Obama administration weighs Afghan request to slow withdrawal of U.S. troops

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is considering a request from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to slow the pace of the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

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“President Ghani has requested some flexibility in the troop drawdown timeline and base closure sequencing over the next two years, and we are actively considering that request,” the official said, speaking on background.

Ghani will travel to Washington next month to meet with Obama. Last month, the Afghan president spoke publicly about the U.S. plan to halve the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2015 and cut them further in 2016. He made clear he would prefer a longer timeline and said: “deadlines should not be dogmas.”

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission after 13 years of war at the end of 2014. About 13,000 foreign troops, mostly Americans, remain to train Afghan forces.

Afghan troops continue to fight Taliban militants. The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it had seen twice as many fatalities on the battlefield in 2014 than in the previous year as fighting intensified.

U.S. officials are looking for ways to support Afghanistan.

U.S. General John Campbell, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, has developed recommendations on ways to train, advise and assist Afghan forces and maintain counterterrorism capabilities, the official said.

The White House has already twice adjusted its plans to cut U.S. troops to about 5,000 by the end of this year and draw down to a “normal” U.S. embassy presence in Kabul at the end of 2016.

Ashton Carter, Obama’s pick to lead the Pentagon, told Congress last week that he was open to adjusting the drawdown plan.

(Clarifies conclusion of International Committee of the Red Cross report on battlefield fatalities, 5th paragraph)

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Storey and Jonathan Oatis