NATO and partner nations are still considering the size of the force that will remain in Afghanistan once the International Security Assistance Force mission ends in December 2014, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Feb. 22.
Little, in Brussels with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, issued a statement to put down rumors about the size of the U.S. force that will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
In a statement, Little said news reports that American officials told partners that 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. troops would be part of a follow-on force are incorrect. “A range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution,” he added.
President Barack Obama still is reviewing options for American forces in Afghanistan following the end of the ISAF mission, the press secretary said. Officials have said the United States will continue to have a presence in the country aimed at training and mentoring Afghan security forces, and a small counterterrorism force aimed against extremist groups such as al-Qaida.
More than 100,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan today. The United States provides about 66,000 service members.
In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, Obama announced his intent to withdraw 34,000 U.S. service members from Afghanistan over the next year. The United States already has withdrawn the 33,000 troops that surged into the country beginning in 2009. Officials have said the U.S. presence will shrink as Afghan capabilities grow.
Afghanistan’s national security forces now have 352,000 members, and they will assume the lead in missions throughout the country in the spring.
In his statement today, Little reiterated that U.S. officials will continue to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with NATO and partner nations.