WASHINGTON - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked US troops Tuesday for their service in Afghanistan and said they have helped to train a country that can defend itself against terrorism.

“So what’s the legacy? The legacy is now a proud Afghan security forces that has dealt with the best of you and emulates the best of your example,” Ghani said to a crowd of service members at the Pentagon. “The special forces who worked shoulder to shoulder with you are now carrying the mission.”

During his first visit to Washington since being elected president, Ghani is expected to make the case for more flexibility in the planned drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan at the end of this year. There are currently about 10,000 American service members in Afghanistan, though the White House has said it will reduce that to about 5,500 by December.

Jeff Eggers, senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the National Security Council, told reporters last week that he expected President Obama to make a statement on Afghanistan troop levels Tuesday after speaking with Ghani. “But no decisions have been made yet,” Eggers said.

Some Republicans have warned that not leaving behind a residual US presence in Afghanistan could lead to the country’s hard-won security falling back into chaos similar to what happened in Iraq.

Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said that while the US and other international partners will continue to help in the fight, Ghani has made it clear that “Afghanistan’s future is ultimately for Afghans to grab hold of and for Afghans to decide.”

In speaking to service members, Ghani also emphasized changes the country has made that allow young Afghan girls more freedom to get an education. He directed the remarks specifically to someone in the audience - Reese Larson, a 9-year-old girl whose father is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

“Reese, I have greetings to you from 3 million Afghan girls who are attending school today. Fourteen years ago, there were exactly none. Each one of them wants to entertain the hopes you do, and your dad is making this possible,” Ghani said. “Remember, he is there to make a difference.”

Ghani arrived in Washington on Sunday. After the remarks Monday morning, the Afghan leader will spend the rest of the day at Camp David with Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Ghani will visit the White House on Tuesday and Capitol Hill on Wednesday before going to New York City on Thursday for meetings at the United Nations.

More than 850,000 Americans have served in Afghanistan since 2001. Many have returned home injured and more than 2,000 were killed in action.

Bonnie Carroll, founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, attended Monday’s ceremony with two family members of troops who were killed in Afghanistan.

“For those who have lost a family member in Afghanistan, it is so meaningful to understand that their loved one’s service and sacrifice made a difference, was appreciated and will be remembered,” she said in a statement. “We are grateful to President Ghani for including surviving families in his meeting at the Pentagon.”