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Panetta Seeks $1.3 Billion a Year From Allies for Afghan

U.S. Seeks $1.3 Billion a Year From Allies for Afghan Forces
Afghan soldiers and police officers totaled about 337,000 in mid-March and are scheduled to reach 352,000 this year. Photo: Jangir/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. will urge NATO allies to pledge as much as 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) a year to help Afghanistan pay for its security forces as alliance combat operations wind down before ending in 2014, a U.S. defense official said.

The U.S. is making progress in getting commitments and will seek to line up more pledges at meetings of allied defense and foreign ministers in Brussels today and tomorrow, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made. The official declined to say how much money has been offered.

The U.S. estimates the cost of maintaining the Afghan army and police at $4 billion to $6 billion a year, depending on the size of the force. The goal is to raise the 1 billion euros a year from allies to supplement funding from the U.S. and the Afghan government as the coalition draws down its forces.

Members of the 28-nation alliance will shoulder a “fair share” of the costs, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters before the meeting. “It’s a good deal to finance the Afghan security forces politically, because we will then give the defense of Afghanistan a strong Afghan face, and economically, because it is less expensive to finance Afghan security forces than to deploy foreign troops in Afghanistan.”

Afghan soldiers and police officers totaled about 337,000 in mid-March and are scheduled to reach 352,000 this year. The coalition has agreed with Afghan leaders to begin paring the force after 2014 to about 230,000.

International Commitment

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are attending the two-day Brussels consultations to prepare for a NATO summit in Chicago next month. No concrete sums of money will be pledged today, Rasmussen said.

Today and tomorrow “are not pledging conferences,” Rasmussen told reporters. “I would not expect concrete announcements at this meeting, nor is the Chicago summit a pledging conference. But I would expect a clear picture of the size, the structure and the cost of a long-term sustainable Afghan security force.”

Rasmussen said that about $4 billion annually for sustaining the Afghan security forces has been endorsed by Afghan authorities and the international community. “That’s our planning basis, though no formal final decision has been made yet,” he said.

‘Positive Attitude’

“I sense that there is a positive attitude toward international financing of the Afghan security forces, people realize that a bill of that size goes well beyond the financial capability of the Afghan government,” he said.

In the latest incident that may strain relations between coalition forces and Afghan officials and citizens, the Pentagon said today it would investigate photos published by the Los Angeles Times that the newspaper said showed U.S. troops “grinning and mugging” as they held up body parts of dead Afghan insurgents.

“Secretary Panetta strongly rejects the conduct depicted in these two-year-old photographs,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. “These images by no means represent the values or professionalism of the vast majority of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today.”

Tensions have been exacerbated in the past by the murder in March of 17 Afghan civilians, for which U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales faces charges, following the burning of Korans at an American base and a video that showed U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of Afghans they had killed.

Chicago Summit

On the agenda at the May 20-21 Chicago summit will be the pace for shifting security responsibility to Afghan forces in advance of the planned departure of most coalition troops by the end of 2014.

Defense ministers will also consult on the alliance’s need for technologies and weapons systems over the next 10 years as the U.S. and European nations wrestle with tight budgets. The goal is to pool resources and share capabilities such as airlift, munitions, intelligence and surveillance, missile defense and cybersecurity.

Rasmussen said the summit will discuss progress on NATO missile defense.

In Chicago “our ambition is to declare an interim missile defense capability. Today we made clear that we are all determined to make that happen,” he said.

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