Brussels: A German official said on Friday that Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has told NATO allies that the US will leave between 8,000 and 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when combat ends.
German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters today that Panetta informed him of the numbers.
US officials have yet to say publicly how many American troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
Panetta had said today that US officials were planning to leave troops in all sectors of the country north, south, east and west as well as in Kabul. Pentagon officials have said the military has mapped out plans to carry on its mission of training and advising the Afghan forces and also leave a small counter terrorism force to battle insurgents.
When asked, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters today that no decision has been made on the size of the post-2014 international force.
Speaking to reporters at the close of the meeting of NATO defence ministers here, Panetta noted that President Barack Obama is strongly considering a plan to maintain 352,000 Afghan troops for the next five years. That would be part of an effort to promote security and stability and help persuade Afghanistan that America and its allies will not abandon it once combat troops leave in 2014, senior alliance officials said yesterday.
NATO officials are also widely considering that option. Such a change, if NATO endorses it, could increase the costs to the US and allies by more than USD 2 billion a year, at a time when most are struggling with budget cuts and fiscal woes. Last May, NATO agreed to underwrite an Afghan force of about 230,000, at a cost of about USD 4.1 billion a year after 2014. It costs about USD 6.5 billion this year to fund the current Afghan force of 352,000, and the US is providing about USD 5.7 billion of that.
Maintaining the larger troop strength could bolster the confidence of the Afghan forces and make it clear that NATO is committed to an enduring relationship with Afghanistan, a senior NATO official said.