McConnell Says 10,000 Troops Should Stay in Afghanistan

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said at least 10,000 U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when President Barack Obama has pledged to bring most forces home from an 11-year war.

“We’re going to need a minimum of about 10,000 troops here to provide adequate training and counterterrorism in the post-2014 period, and we anticipate forces from other countries who will remain here beyond 2014 as well,” McConnell of Kentucky said today on a conference call with reporters.

McConnell had just completed a visit to Afghanistan to meet with U.S. military commanders led by General John Allen, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

Obama and White House advisers said last week, during a Washington visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that the administration was still weighing options and wouldn’t rule out bringing all troops home.

Obama said at a Jan. 11 press conference with Karzai that Afghan forces will take over the lead security role for their country within a few months, sooner than planned. Coalition forces will take a “support role” in the spring. There were 102,000 international coalition troops under U.S. command as of last month.

McConnell, who said his trip to the war-torn nation was his seventh to Afghanistan in 10 years, told reporters he has become confident that the Afghan army and police can engage effectively in combat with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups as more U.S. troops are withdrawn.

New Optimism

“This is the first time I have left there with a sense of genuine optimism,” McConnell said.

Also today, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Eklil Hakimi, told reporters in Washington he is confident some U.S. troops will remain in his country even as White House officials have floated the possibility of keeping none.

“Both presidents already committed, beyond 2014, U.S. forces’ presence will be there,” he said.

Hakimi, who is the lead Afghan negotiator for a security agreement that would grant immunity from local prosecution for any U.S. soldiers that remain, said “the whole purpose” of such an agreement is to protect the rights of American troops that would remain.

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