NATO considers post-2014 Afghan force of 8,000-12,000

Fri Feb 22, 2013 12:34pm EST
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By Adrian Croft and Phil Stewart

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO Allies are discussing keeping a training force of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after most foreign soldiers leave in 2014, the United States said on Friday.

NATO-led forces are gradually handing over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts as the bulk of foreign combat forces prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.

"A range of 8-12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission," Pentagon spokesman George Little said after a NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not decided how many American troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014, he said, adding: "The president is still reviewing options."

German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said earlier that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had told allies in Brussels that the United States alone could keep 8,000 to 12,000 troops.

After Panetta denied this, de Maiziere issued a statement correcting himself and saying the number referred to the possible overall size of the post-2014 NATO mission, also expected to include European allies and some non-NATO nations.

Troop numbers are politically sensitive as voters in many allied countries are weary of the 12-year war with the Taliban.

Previous discussions at the White House focused on a range of options of between 3,000 and 9,000 U.S. troops, with military commanders most comfortable with the higher-end figures.   Continued...

U.S.' Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Vidal