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US shaping scope of force in Afghanistan after 2014

American and allied military planners are outlining plans for a force that would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 following the handover to Afghan security and include a small counterterrorism force with an eye toward al-Qaida, senior officials tell The New York Times.

Under the plan, the American counterterrorism force might number fewer than 1,000, the Times quotes one military official as saying. NATO forces also would advise Afghans at major regional military and police headquarters but likely would have a minimal battlefield role, with the exception of some special operations advisers, the Times reported.

One option for overall numbers of American and NATO troops after 2014 calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops; The Wall Street Journal called this the “midpoint” of the initial proposals from senior American commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen.

As one of his last acts as top commander there, Allen is expected to submit a recommendation for how quickly to begin withdrawing the United States’ 66,000 troops, the Times reported. The paper added that two U.S. officials involved in Afghan issues said Allen wants to keep a significant capability through autumn 2013, which could translate to a force of more than 60,000 troops, though the White House is expected to ask Allen to submit a range of options for drawing down forces next year, including some involving substantial reductions in troop levels.

The United States has opened talks with the Afghans on a security agreement that would authorize an American troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014, the Times notes, and American officials will need to define what role American and NATO forces might play.

In addition, NATO’s military planners also are developing a concept for how to carry out the post-2014 mission, which is to be approved by the alliance’s defense ministers early next year, according to the report.

The post-2014 planning has to take into account difficult questions such as how to guard against the expansion of terrorist groups and advise an Afghan military that has little airpower, poor logistics and difficulty evacuating and treating its wounded, the Times noted. But it also will be dependent on the willingness of allied nations to contribute troops and funds.

It is generally expected that the post-2014 NATO mission would advise seven regional Afghan Army corps and several regional Afghan police headquarters, the Times reported. The arrangement would largely insulate the NATO advisers from the battlefield, though officials told the paper that advisers might accompany Afghan brigades on major operations.

Source: The New York Times

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