Defense

February 25, 2013

Up to 12,000 U.S, allied troops for Afghanistan

The U.S. and its NATO allies revealed Feb. 22 they may keep as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends next year, largely American forces tasked with hunting down remnants of al Qaeda and helping Afghan forces with their own security.

Patience with the 11-year-old war has grown thin in the U.S. and Europe, yet Washington and its allies feel they cannot pick up and leave without risking a repeat of what happened in Afghanistan after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989: Attention turned elsewhere, the Taliban grabbed power and al Qaeda found refuge.

In disclosing that he and his NATO counterparts were discussing a residual force of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said most allied defense ministers assured him they are committed to remaining part of a U.S.-led coalition.

“I feel very confident that we are going to get a number of nations to make that contribution for the enduring presence,” Panetta told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels at the conclusion of a defense ministers meeting.

The U.S. and its allies have managed to stick together throughout the war, despite differing views. The Europeans have seen the military mission as mainly aimed at promoting stable governance; the Americans have viewed it as mainly combat. Some allies, including France, have already pulled out their combat troops.

The Obama administration has not said how many troops or diplomats it intends to keep in Afghanistan after 2014; it is in the early stages of negotiating a bilateral security agreement with Kabul that would set the legal parameters. There currently are 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a 2010 peak of 100,000.

In addition to targeting terrorists, the post-2014 missions are expected to be defined as training and advising a still-developing Afghan army and police force and providing security for the U.S. and allied civilian and military presence, officials said.

The largely unspoken assumption on which the post-2014 plan is built is that Afghanistan’s own forces will be strong enough to hold off the Taliban on their own starting in 2015 and to prevent the country’s relapse into civil war. The worry is that if the Taliban regained power they would allow al Qaeda to return in large numbers, defeating the original purpose of the U.S. military action in 2001.

It’s a touchy topic at this stage of a still-unfolding war, with Afghans fearful of being abandoned by their foreign partners and Washington and its NATO allies wary of committing too heavily to a corrupt Kabul government facing an uncertain future.

Budget pressures in the U.S. and Europe also complicate the outlook.

“There’s no question in the current budget environment, with deep cuts in European defense spending and the kind of political gridlock that we see in the United States now with regards to our own budget, is putting at risk our ability to effectively act together,” Panetta said. “As I prepare to step down as secretary of defense, I do fear that the alliance will soon be, if it is not already, stretched too thin.”

Panetta is expected to retire as soon as his successor is confirmed. The Senate could vote on the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next Pentagon chief as early as Feb. 27. Panetta is leaving just as Gen. Joseph Dunford is settling in as the successor to Gen. John Allen as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

Another source of anxiety among the allies is Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election; President Hamid Karzai, who has run the country since U.S. forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, is not running and there is no obvious successor.

Just last week President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that by this time next year 34,000 U.S. troops will have left, with the rest of the combat force to depart by the end of 2014, along with their counterparts from NATO and other partner countries. Obama did not say how many troops he was willing to commit to a post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, but he is believed to be weighing options that range from about 3,000 to about 9,000.

At the Brussels meeting, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere caused an initial stir by telling reporters that Panetta had said the U.S. would keep 8,000 to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Panetta denied that, saying he was talking about a combined U.S. and NATO force of 8,000 to 12,000, and de Maiziere later said his own comments to reporters were “misleading.”

Panetta said officials are planning to leave troops in all sectors of the country as well as in Kabul. Currently, Italy is leading the allied security presence in western Afghanistan, Germany in the north and the U.S. in the east and the south.

The Obama administration also is considering a plan to underwrite the cost of maintaining an Afghan security force of 352,000 for the next five years as part of an effort to maintain security and help convince Afghans that they will not be abandoned.

Last May, NATO agreed that the Afghan force would be reduced to about 230,000 after 2014. A force of that size would cost about $4.1 billion a year, compared to $6.5 billion this year for the bigger force of 352,000. The U.S. pays about $5.7 billion of that $6.5 billion bill.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. DeNoris A. Mickle

‘Sentient data’ may one day augment Soldier capability

Air Force photograph by SSgt. DeNoris A. Mickle Air Force photograph by SSgt. DeNoris A. Mickle “Sentient data,” or information that can feel and perceive things, might one day protect Soldiers and their networks, s...
 
 
Air Force photograph

AEDC conducts space environment test for U.S. Navy

Air Force photograph Members of AEDC’s Space Threat Assessment Testbed (STAT) Test & Evaluation team install a microsatellite in the STAT chamber before conducting a test. The Space and Missiles Combined Test Force at the...
 
 
Air Force photograph

Technology project at Range G focuses on boundary layer transition testing

Air Force photograph A technology project is taking place in Range G at AEDC to prepare for advanced hypersonic testing. Pictured here is the inside of the Range G impact and ballistic launch facility. Boundary layer transition...
 

 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Brittany Bateman

Third armaments revolution set to unfold

Air Force photograph by SrA. Brittany Bateman The Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Missile, or C-RAM, gun fires flares during a weapons test at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2010. The C-RAM has the ability to fire up to 4,500 roun...
 
 

Eglin to temporarily host Navy backup F-35C fleet

The Air Force recently signed an Addendum to the Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Base Realignment and Closure 2014 record of decision for two temporary actions–shifting the primary runway to Runway 01/19 (RW 01/19) and allowing a temporary increase in previously limited F-35 operations for the construction-related closure of Runway 12/30, and the Department of...
 
 
Navy photograph

NAWCWD counts down to fully operational T-Range

Navy photograph Engineering technicians Eugene Woods, left, and Chad Carrasco tighten bolts on a high-temperature burner at the T-Range in China Lake, Calif., Feb. 25. These burners are capable of replicating Mach 4 conditions ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>