BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Allies are discussing keeping a NATO force of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the United States said on Friday in the first official indication of how many foreign troops will stay in the country after most combat troops leave.
U.S. President Barack Obama has not decided how many American troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
“The president is still reviewing options and has not made a decision about the size of a possible U.S. presence after 2014, and we will continue to discuss with allies and the Afghans how we can best carry out two basic missions: targeting the remnants of al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and equipping Afghan forces,” Little said after a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta earlier denied comments by German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere that the United States had told allies in Brussels that the United States alone could keep 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“A range of 8-12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution,” Little said.
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan are gradually handing over responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts as most foreign combat forces prepare to leave the country by the end of 2014. NATO will lead a smaller training mission in Afghanistan after 2014.
Reporting by Phil Stewart, Adrian Croft, Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall