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.


 
 

 

Headlines April 18, 2014

Business: Lockheed to Lose 17 F-35s Under Automatic Pentagon Cuts - Pentagon will cut 17 of the 343 F-35 fighters it planned to buy from Lockheed Martin in fiscal 2016 through 2019 unless Congress repeals automatic budget cuts, according to a new Defense Department report. DOD looking for ways not to break MH-60R helo deal - The...
 
 

News Briefs April 18, 2013

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,177 As of April 15, 2014, at least 2,177 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,802 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result...
 
 
LM-F35-hours

F-35 fleet surpasses 15,000 flying hours

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fleet recently surpassed 15,000 flight hours, marking a major milestone for the program.  “Flying 15,000 hours itself demonstrates that the program is maturing, but what I think is e...
 

 
nasa-cassini

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of new Saturn moon

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet’s known moons. Images taken w...
 
 

NASA completes LADEE mission with planned impact on Moon’s surface

Ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft impacted the surface of the moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m., PDT, April 17. LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent...
 
 
Photograph courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler telescope discovers first Earth-size planet in ‘habitable zone’

Photograph courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four inner planets, seen lined up...
 




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>