Estimates for a NATO-led force of as many as 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 doesn’t include forces for counterterrorism operations and protection of U.S. diplomats, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford said.
The 8,000-to-12,000 person estimate for NATO troops refers to post-2014 operations for training, advising and assisting Afghan forces “and not the other aspects of U.S. presence” in Afghanistan, Dunford told the House Armed Services Committee today.
“The next big mission is the counterterrorism piece, which is not included in those NATO numbers,” said Dunford, who commands the International Security Assistance Force. More troops will also be needed to support the State Department’s mission after U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan end in December 2014.
Dunford is the first top military official to draw distinctions between various missions and spelling out the need for additional troops to continue the fight against remnants of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The NATO force estimate was endorsed last week by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a “reasonable target.”
In February, former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told his counterparts in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that he foresees having about 8,000 to 12,000 allied forces in Afghanistan after the war effort ends in 2014.
Other U.S. officials have called for a larger U.S. military presence than the range that is under discussion. The White House hasn’t announced a final number as the U.S. and Afghanistan continue to negotiate a bilateral security agreement that would provide immunity to U.S. troops from local law.
In March, Marine General James Mattis, who retired as the head of the U.S. Central Command, told a Senate panel that he favored as many as 13,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. NATO may add 50 percent more for a total of 20,000 forces, he said.
The 13,600 number has been endorsed by Ambassador James Cunningham, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, and lawmakers including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, a California Republican.