WASHINGTON - The commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan has said that he is confident that NATO members will contribute at least 4,000 additional conventional military forces to the post-war mission in the strife-torn country, which when combined with the American commitment of 9,800 would bring the total number of foreign troops to 13,800, according to media reports.
Additional contributions of elite special operation forces from allied countries like Great Britain and Australia could drive the foreign troops total in Afghanistan much higher, Gen. Joseph Dunford said in Brussels, the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
‘Right now, I don’t have any concerns [about] getting to 12,000’ for the conventional force, said Dunford, who briefed a small group of reporters who travelled to the NATO Defence Ministers conference with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, according to the reports.
The alliance is reviewing transition plans that will be formalised at a ‘force generation’ conference later this month and be adopted by government leaders at NATO’s September summit in Wales.
President Barack Obama last week announced plans to keep a US force in Afghanistan next year before withdrawing it by the end of 2016.
Of the 9,800 military personnel that will remain in the country, around 1,800 will be part of a special operation force tasked with conducting counterterrorism missions in the country.
The other 8,000, alongwith at least 4,000 additional troops provided by allied nations, would be part of new NATO training and advisory mission.
The training mission will be focused on the larger Afghan Army and police headquarters, as well as the Ministries of Defence and Interior in Kabul.
The counterterrorism forces will pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and help advise Afghanistan’s own commandos, US officials said. Gen Dunford defended the plan, which has been criticised by some lawmakers in Washington, who have pointed to signs that al Qaeda in Afghanistan could pose a bigger threat.
Gen. Dunford said the plan President Obama outlined is a clear signal to the Afghan government and population that the US remains committed to helping Afghanistan. ‘The nature of our commitment changes, but the nature of the relationship is enduring,’ Gen. Dunford said.
The United States and its allies in Afghanistan have expressed confidence that Afghanistan’s new President, to be elected in a June 14 runoff, will sign the necessary bilateral security agreement and NATO status-of-forces accord to permit the post-2014 deployments, according to a dispatch in The Washington Post.
Germany, Italy and Turkey each has indicated it will leave 600 to 800 troops in Afghanistan next year, based respectively in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, Herat in the west and Kabul. Those forces will be supplemented in each location by contributions from NATO and non-NATO countries that have troops in the international force under Dunford’s command in Afghanistan.
‘We have not yet taken positions on the exact figures, but of course the United States announcement gives you an indication of the size of the future mission,’ to be called Resolute Support, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted as stating in dispatches.
‘We haven’t yet taken a decision on the duration’ of the mission, including after 2015, Rasmussen said. ‘Right now, we’ll concentrate on the establishment’ of the mission, he said.
Rasmussen emphasised NATO’s ongoing commitment to provide annual financial support for Afghanistan’s 352,000 combined military and police forces through 2017. An initial commitment is for $4.1 billion a year - about half of it from the United States. Dunford last year asked that the US amount be increased by $600 million to $800 million.