Brussels: Urged on by the United States, NATO is open to keeping more troops in Afghanistan than initially planned after 2016, but officials said today the alliance is waiting for the Obama administration to announce its decision on a larger military presence there.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he discussed the issue with a number of NATO allies Thursday and asked them to consider abandoning their earlier plans to cut troop levels in Afghanistan to just a small presence at the end of next year.
"I have asked all of the NATO partners to remain flexible and to consider the possibility of making adjustments to the plan, which is now two-and-a-half years old, for the presence in Afghanistan," Carter told reporters during a meeting of NATO defense ministers.
"I was very pleased to hear ministers of defense from our NATO allies reaffirm their commitment, discussing not whether but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan."
Carter's reference to the "two-and-a-half year old" plan, which had the US leaving just 1,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2016, lent credence to suggestions that the Obama administration is likely to affirm military commanders' requests and leave several thousand troops there instead, because fighting between the Taliban and Afghans continues.
The top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell made that argument to Congress Thursday, saying that drawing the force down to 1,000 by the end of next year will limit coalition training and counterterrorism operations.
"If we came down to 1,000 — there is no counterterrorism structured force in those numbers," Campbell told the House Armed Services Committee.