US plans to keep 6000 to 9000 troops in Afghanistan
By Sadaf Shinwari - 12 Dec 2012, 8:58 am
US officials on Tuesday announced the Obama administration plans on keeping 6,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, fewer than previously reported, and will confine most of them to fortified garrisons near the capital, leaving Afghan troops largely without American advisors in the field to fight a still-powerful insurgency.
Officials close to the discussions say the final U.S. presence will be substantially smaller than the 15,000 troops senior commanders have sought to keep after most of the 68,000 remaining American troops leave in the next two years.
The officials quoted by Los Angeles Times said the massive bases that the Pentagon built in Kandahar and Helmand, two southern provinces where the Taliban is strongest, probably will be turned over to Afghan control. So will a string of U.S. combat posts near the eastern city of Jalalabad, a key staging ground for military operations along the Pakistani border.
The United States and Afghanistan began talks back in November on a security agreement that would authorize an American troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014, when Afghan forces are to assume responsibility for the war.
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the Marine officer who has been nominated by President Obama to assume command of the military mission in Afghanistan next year, told Congress that the goal was to complete the talks by May 2013, well ahead of the deadline for handing responsibility to the Afghans. The timetable, he noted, is longer than the one the Obama administration set during its failed effort to negotiate a similar agreement with Iraq.
Any troop presence after 2014 would require the consent of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a long-term bilateral security agreement is now being discussed. Afghan officials said Mr. Karzai is willing to accept a U.S. troop presence post-2014, as long as key demands are met. But a major demand is that American forces come under the jurisdiction of Afghan courts.
The U.S. forces that stay behind are likely to operate mainly from Bagram air base, the sprawling installation 25 miles north of Kabul, and a few other bases near the capital. They and a smaller contingent of foreign coalition troops will mostly do small-scale training of Afghan army and police units, said the officials, who described internal discussions on condition of anonymity.
The talks between the United States and Afghanistan are being led by James Warlick, the deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, Afghanistan’s ambassador in Washington.