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Hagel: 1,000 More US Troops to Stay in Afghanistan in 2015


U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel left, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, right, speaks during a joint news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014.

Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says as many as 1,000 more U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan during the first few months of 2015.

At a news conference in Kabul Saturday, Hagel said President Barack Obama decided to adjust the withdrawal timeline because of delays in other Western nations' contributions of forces for a NATO support mission beginning in January.

"Essentially, President Obama has just bought some time for the process to catch up. But the mission does not change. Our combat role is over," said Hagel.

The move changes an earlier plan to cut U.S. troop levels to 9,800 by the end of this year. But the 10,800 troops now set to stay in Afghanistan are still scheduled to be scaled back to 5,500 in 2016.

Hagel appeared at Saturday's news conference alongside Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, after arriving in Kabul on an unannounced visit.

Hagel was also expected to talk to those U.S. troops still deployed in the country after 13 years of the NATO-led war in Afghanistan.

Before landing, he told reporters he has confidence Afghan security forces have the capacity to defend the capital from ongoing Taliban attacks.

NATO's combat mission will end on December 31 and be replaced by a support mission of around 12,500 soldiers who will provide training and assistance to the Afghan forces.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama named former deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter to replace Hagel as Pentagon chief.