The top commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan said the number of coalition troops needed after 2014 may take another six to eight months to determine.
NATO defense ministers are unlikely to agree on long-range troop requirements when they wrap up a discussion tomorrow in Brussels on the Afghanistan war, said U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the coalition commander in Afghanistan, who briefed reporters at NATO headquarters today.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in February that NATO would likely need a combined force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops after 2014, when the combat mission officially ends and Afghans take the lead in providing for their own security.
Dunford declined to endorse that estimate today, saying, “I don’t need specificity of numbers at this point.”
He said he will assess the status of the war after this summer’s fighting season -- the first with Afghans instead of coalition troops in the lead -- and then assess the status of the political situation of the government this fall.
“I suspect I will be back in six or eight months from now” to get clarification from NATO defense ministers on the number of troops required after 2014, Dunford said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said defense ministers will use tomorrow’s conference to develop a “concept of operations” that will “guide our military planners as they finalize preparations in the course of the coming months.”
NATO’s mission after 2014 is “to train, advise and assist Afghan forces,” he said.
Dunford said he’ll need clarity on “what it is that NATO is going to do,” including how much of the country will require coalition forces and how the training mission work will be divided among allies.
Rasmussen also confirmed today that NATO will explore a request by the Libyan government to train its forces. Allies have agreed to send a delegation to Libya and report back by the end of June on whether such training should be conducted.
“This is not about deploying troops to Libya,” Rasmussen said today in Brussels before meeting with defense ministers. “If we are to engage in training activities, such activities could take place outside Libya.”
NATO air strikes helped topple former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
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