Too early to comment on post-2014 troop figures: Pentagon



Washington: As US President Barack Obama prepares to announce the future of American troop presence in Afghanistan, the Pentagon on Thursday said it does not want to view a post 2014 US-Afghan relationship just from the prism of troop numbers.

Pentagon Press Secretary, George Little, told reporters during an off camera news conference that it was premature to talk about the number of troops as of now as discussions were being held within and with the Afghan government on the issue.

"Troops numbers in itself is not to tell the entire story on what we are going to do between now and 2014 and beyond... We also have to think about the full context of our mission in Afghanistan. And that is to work closely with our ISAF partners across the full spectrum of activities.

"We are working closely with the Afghans, especially the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) to beef up their capabilities and to arrive at any conclusions on where the war is headed and what our enduring relationship with Afghanistan would look like based on a narrow look at the numbers, I think, respectfully is not the appropriate way to characterise the mission in Afghanistan," he said. He said the US-Afghan relationship in the years ahead would not just be a military relationship but development was a major aspect of it.

"We would continue to have string diplomatic ties, we will continue to have strong intelligence ties with our Afghan partners and we have to look at it that way. This is not about just troops on the ground. This is about other US personnel on the ground. It is about economic. It is about development, nurturing a relationship which we believe would be productive going forward," Little said.

"We hope to continue to have support (from other countries)... We expect a coalition, if you will, that nurtures enduring relationship beyond 2014," he said.

Responding to questions on what the numbers would be and when the announcement would be made, Little said it is too premature to give a definite figure as discussions in this regard is still being done and no decision has been taken.

General John Allen, Commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan has submitted recommendations to Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, on the US troop presence in Afghanistan post 2014.

The New York Times reported that Allen gave three options of 6,000 troops; 10,000 troops and 20,000 troops.

"I think that anyone who arrives at a definitive conclusion on the troop level numbers between now and the end of 2014 or beyond is making premature assertion about where we are headed. "These decisions are very much in the discussion phase and when the President is ready to make these announcements he would do so," Little said.

"The options are being considered in confidential discussions with the White House. Obviously the department is actively participating in those discussions and we look forward to arriving at a conclusion soon. We are consulting with the Government of Afghanistan on what the numbers would look like going forward," Little said.

The post 2014 US presence in Afghanistan would include both counter-terrorism and training missions, he added.

Responding to a question, Little said he does not believe Panetta, has formally moved ahead.

"Secretary believes that General Allen has formed a very effective campaign strategy in Afghanistan, is working well on the transition process and is coming up with some very well and clearly defined analytical based recommendations with respect to options on troop levels in the future," he said.

PTI