By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Jan. 17, 2013 – Defense leaders from NATO countries and partner nations discussed what capabilities will be needed by an enduring force in Afghanistan after 2014, and what the parameters of that force will be, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview today.
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey met with chiefs of defense of allied nations at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. He said they used the annual meeting to renew old military-to-military ties and build new ones.
On Afghanistan, the military chiefs discussed the transition to an Afghan lead this year and to total Afghan control of operations by the end of 2014. While numbers of troops after 2014 were discussed, there were no decisions made. In fact, some NATO officials went so far as to say the numbers weren’t important this far out from the actual date.
“At some point, numbers count,” Dempsey said. “There is a cost to force protection, and there is a cost to sustain the force. On top of those two cornerstones, we have to address the mission sets we’ve been given to address.”
The missions include putting pressure on al-Qaida and continuing the development of Afghan security forces.
“We are looking at different options, and we will decide at what level we will train, advise and assist, and that will illuminate the requirement for forces,” he said. “When folks say we’re not focused on the numbers so much, it’s because we want to get the mission profile correct, and the level at which we need to be engaged, in order to deliver it.”
The U.S. military is not as interested in the overall numbers as is NATO and partners countries, Dempsey noted.
“Because we’re bigger and better resourced, we tend to be more agile,” he said. “We can change the level of commitment up or down with a little more agility than potentially some of our partners can. They’re really eager to understand what we need to accomplish beyond 2014.”
The Afghans are also eager to hear the results, he said.
“They are not pressing us for a specific number, but they do want to know how many bases (we need), for example,” Dempsey said. “They are eager to understand at what level we will be assisting them.”
Dempsey noted that such information can also help the U.S. military prepare for the transition.
“There is physics involved for retrograding out of Afghanistan, so we need to know the rough order of magnitude so we can begin planning,” the general said.
During the meeting, Dempsey spoke with his new Russian counterpart, Army Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff. The Russian leader was very candid about the issues and things he considers irritants, Dempsey said, noting that he was “equally candid on our views of these irritants.”
Dempsey said he is pleased with the progress made in the military-to-military engagement between Russia and the U.S.
“We have a work plan that includes engagements and exercises and contacts,” he said. “It works very well at the lower and medium level and it’s beginning to work a little better at the upper echelons.
The two nations have many issues and concerns in common – counter narcotics, counter piracy, the supply chain to Afghanistan through Central Asia and more, the chairman noted.
Dempsey said he also spoke to Gerasimov about the Russian’s two years in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“The (overall) Russian experience in the country was that they were moving in the right direction, and if the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed, Afghanistan would have been fine,” Dempsey said.
The chairman maintains there is some commonality in the U.S. and Russian approach to Afghansitan, but “I think we learned from their mistakes,” he said. “I told him that our results will be more enduring. He disagreed. I told him … history will prove one of us right.”
Gerasimov invited Dempsey to Russia this spring, “and I intend to take him up on that.”