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305 words - February 26, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
Among more than 100,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan today, "there are 66,000 US men and women in uniform in Afghanistan," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on February 21 while stressing the still not confirmed Senator Chuck Hagel as new Defense Secretary was a "waste of time" and "meaningless political posturing." The White House firmly believes that Mr Hagel will be confirmed and this is current Secretary Leon E. Panetta who attended the NATO defense ministerial in Brussels.
The participants considered the "size of the force that will remain in Afghanistan once the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission ends in December 2014," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said on February 22. Pursuant to President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address who announced the withdrawal of 34,000 US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged "a new and different NATO-led mission after 2014" and said that "NATO alone should not bear the cost for Afghan forces."
Contrary to a previous plan that called for reducing troops to some 240,000, NATO officials discussed a proposal to maintain Afghan army and police forces at 352,000 combined members after 2014. As for the overall NATO mission, "a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size," Mr Little added. Secretary Panetta said the discussions showed "there are a range of options on post-2014 posture that would provide for an effective regional presence," and that ISAF nations will continue "to work closely (…) particularly with other regional lead nations (Pakistan, India), to discuss options."
Lastly, Mr Panetta announced that the 2014 drawdown will begin after Afghan elections, easing fears that the electoral process could suffer from "temporary" deteriorating security conditions as a result of NATO troops' withdrawal.
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