WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a $1.6 billion cut in projected U.S. funding for Afghan security forces, part of a significant reduction in outlays for training and equipping Afghan army and police expected in the coming years.
The United States started withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan in July with the goal of handing over lead security control to an expanded Afghan army and police force by the end of 2014. It has spent billions bulking up Afghan security forces to prepare for that day.
But the Pentagon is in the process of deciding how quickly those costs might come down in the next several years from the $12.8 billion it had initially projected in spending for fiscal year 2012.
Senator Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said $1.6 billion was being cut because of an “overstated requirement” identified by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials acknowledged to Reuters that total spending on training and equipping Afghan forces could fall much further. A figure of $6 billion in funding, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, was probably within the realm of consideration, one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Still, no decisions have been made and U.S. officials said talk of specific numbers was premature.
The U.S. training effort is bulking up the number of Afghan army and police to more than 300,000 by October and has led to heavy U.S. investment in new vehicles, police posts and other infrastructure for Afghan security forces.
But the U.S. military has been planning to scale back that mission, training Afghans to train themselves. A U.S. military factsheet from August shows a plan to reduce the NATO training mission in Afghanistan by about half by 2014.
Officials say the costs of maintaining the Afghan force is much less than it was building it up. One official distanced the questions about the training mission from discussions on broader cuts to Pentagon spending, as the U.S. government tries to trim its gaping deficit.
Reporting by David Alexander and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bill Trott