By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 22, 2014 – Discussions are continuing within the Obama administration on how many U.S. troops could remain as a residual force in Afghanistan next year after the current U.S.-led NATO mission ends, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.
In a briefing for reporters, Kirby was asked about a report that the administration might be considering reducing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan next year to fewer than 5,000 troops on the assumption that Afghan security forces are now capable of repelling threats by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
“There’s an ongoing discussion now about what the force posture in Afghanistan would or could look like post-2014, and I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion,” he said.
Last month, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top commander in Afghanistan, said the United States and its allies were planning a post-2014 force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, most of them American, to continue training and advising Afghan security forces, with several thousand more deployed to conduct counterterrorism operations.
Those deployments would be possible only if the Afghan government first agrees to sign a bilateral security agreement negotiated with the United States, something President Hamid Karzai is refusing to do. However, the two leading candidates emerging from the country’s elections earlier this month have said they will sign the accord once the winner takes office later this year.
At today’s briefing, Kirby praised the Afghans for conducting a well-run first round of voting April 5.
“That’s not insignificant, all by itself,” he said. “Democracy is hard stuff. And they’re proving their mettle at it.”