NATO in Talks on Scale of Afghan Role After 2014 Deadline

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BRUSSELS -- NATO defense ministers meeting here on Friday said they made progress toward planning a military assistance mission in Afghanistan after the alliance's combat role expires at the end of 2014, with some partner nations already offering to participate.

A draft proposal discussed here for possible NATO operations in Afghanistan after 2014 envisions a force of up to 9,500 American troops and up to 6,000 more from other coalition nations, according to alliance officials, who stressed that no final decisions have been made. Other NATO officials said the combined American and allied force would be smaller, falling in a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops.

George Little, the Pentagon spokesman, said reports that the United States told its allies it was considering 8,000 to 12,000 of its own troops were wrong. "A range of 8-12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution," Mr. Little said. "The president is still reviewing options and has not made a decision about the size of a possible U.S. presence after 2014."

In official comments, NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the session included serious discussion on "preparing a new and different NATO-led mission after 2014 to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces."

Mr. Rasmussen added that "many partners have already offered to join us and are working with us to plan the new mission," but he provided no details.

Officials stressed that troop numbers remain for planning only, and that any enduring NATO military presence in Afghanistan would be possible only through successful negotiations with the Afghan government and contributor nations. That military presence would focus on supporting and training Afghan Army and national police forces, as well as on a narrower counterterrorism mission specifically hunting for high-value adversary leaders. Officials said the draft plans also called for coalition troops to provide "robust force protection" of their personnel.

The draft concept of operations was described by several NATO officials on standard diplomatic rules of anonymity that prohibit identifying them by name or nationality.

But, speaking in broad terms, Mr. Rasmussen made note that a number of nations in the coalition already had pledged to participate in the post-2014 mission.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, attending his final NATO session before retiring from public service, said that he and other defense ministers "did discuss a range of options." He said no firm or final numbers existed for the American or coalition contributions, but that the alliance was firm in its commitment to Afghanistan's long-term stability.

The draft concept for post-2014 Afghanistan envisions a presence of foreign forces operating out of a central headquarters in Kabul but linked to training bases in four sections of the country in a hub-and-spokes design.

Conventional troops acting as advisers would not be present at the division, brigade or battalion level, but would mentor Afghan security forces at the level of the corps headquarters.

Mentoring of Afghan troops at the level of smaller, tactical units in the field would be carried out by Special Operations forces, according to current planning concepts.

The United States currently has about 66,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. NATO and other coalition nations have about 37,000 troops. President Obama has announced that 34,000 United States troops will be removed by February 2014.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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