U.K. Considering Special Forces in Afghanistan After 2014

The U.K. may leave special forces in Afghanistan to assist on counter-terror operations after 2014, the date set for the withdrawal of combat troops from the country, a British official said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization meets in Chicago today with Afghanistan the main topic for discussion. The U.S. will probably to announce it has met its target of securing pledges of more than $1 billion a year to fund the Afghan National Army, according to the official, who discussed security issues on condition of anonymity.

NATO’s plans call for completing the handover of security in all provinces to Afghanistan’s forces in 2014. After 2014, the Western-led alliance, including a small number of U.K. forces, would have no lead combat role.

The U.K. wouldn’t rule out leaving a small presence of as many as 200 commandos for counter-terror purposes. The Ministry of Defense doesn’t comment on the operations of the U.K.’s Special Air Service and Special Boat Service regiments.

Financing the stand-alone Afghan force has taken on greater urgency as Western allies head for the exit after more than a decade of warfare, the longest combat operation in NATO’s history.

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.

Maintaining those numbers of Afghan security forces would cost about $4 billion, with the U.S. seeking $1.3 billion from allies and with the Afghanistan government contributing about $500 million annually, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 10.

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