NATO officials are considering proposals to sustain Afghanistan’s military forces at 352,000 troops after 2016 to boost the confidence of the country’s officials as the U.S. and its allies reduce their presence.
In addition to maintaining more Afghan forces than previously planned, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is working to improve the operations of Afghanistan’s defense and interior ministries, a NATO official said today in Brussels.
Senior Afghan officials, concerned that the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from the country could lead to chaos, may lose their commitment to govern and continue the fight against the Taliban, according to the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the alliance’s deliberations.
“I have confidence that we’ll be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today at a news conference at the alliance headquarters in Brussels.
Paying for Afghanistan’s security isn’t just a NATO responsibility, Rasmussen said. “This is a responsibility for the international community.”
President Barack Obama’s administration had been considering plans that would reduce the size of Afghanistan’s military to about 230,000 troops sometime after 2015.
Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, wrote to Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser, on Jan. 8, asking that the U.S. commit to keep the Afghan military at 350,000. That size “will be necessary for the success of the mission, i.e., to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda,” they said in the letter.
The U.S. heavily subsidizes Afghanistan’s military. While the U.S. spent about $11.2 billion on the Afghan National Security Forces in fiscal 2012, the Obama administration requested $5.75 billion for the current fiscal year, according to the Congressional Research Service.
At the NATO summit in Chicago in May, Afghanistan and the alliance agreed that after 2017 the Afghan military will shrink to a force of 228,500 with an estimated annual budget of $4.1 billion, according to a White House statement.
Obama has announced plans to withdraw 34,000 of the 66,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this time next year. Most of the rest will depart by end of 2014, leaving a small force for training and advising missions if the U.S. and Afghanistan can reach agreement to do so.
U.S. troop levels will fall to 60,500 by May, with further reductions to 52,500 by November and to 33,000 by February 2014, a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military planning.
Other NATO countries have been weighing their own troop reduction plans since the U.S. announced its withdrawal and haven’t yet made decisions, the NATO official said.
Countries also are weighing their post-2014 participation in Afghanistan, including training military forces as well as helping Afghan ministries in their functioning, the official said.