ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT — President Barack Obama’s advisers are weighing how many troops to keep in Afghanistan after 2014 and will make a decision within a “few weeks,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
The commander of NATO and US troops in Afghanistan, General John Allen, has submitted a range of recommendations that are being studied by top officials at the White House and the Pentagon, Panetta told reporters aboard his plane.
“General Allen has worked on several options that we are now reviewing and working with the White House on,” said Panetta, en route to Australia for a week-long trip to Asia.
“And my hope is that we’ll be able to complete this process within the next few weeks.”
He added: “I’m confident that we’re going be able to get to the right number for the post-2014 enduring presence.”
Although Washington has committed to pulling out the bulk of the 68,000 US troops now in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the United States also has promised to keep a follow-on force on the ground under an agreement with Kabul.
But President Barack Obama has yet to say how many troops would stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and any future force would require difficult negotiations with the Afghan government to resolve legal issues and access to bases in the country.
Panetta said Allen’s list of options for post-2014 looks at how to carry out a mix of missions including counter-terrorism, training and logistical support or “enabling capability.”
The recommendations focus on “how you respond to each of those missions,” he said.
Once Obama decides how many troops to keep in the country after 2014, Allen is due to issue recommendations on the pace of the planned troop drawdown from the current level of 68,000, officials said.
Allen is expected to submit his advice on the drawdown later this month.