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American Forces Press Service

NATO Ponders Afghan Troop Strength, Official Says

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Feb. 21, 2013 – NATO defense ministers gathered here are considering proposals to keep the number of Afghan national security forces at 325,000 for the next five years, although a previous plan set the future force at about 240,000, according to a NATO official.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is here this week for the gathering of NATO defense ministers and representatives of non-NATO partner nations.

The official spoke to reporters on background, because the alliance and the Afghan government are still in discussions about the issue, and no final decision is expected soon.

Member nations fully realize that now, as the alliance enters a new phase of operations in Afghanistan and prepares to cut back on coalition troop strength, "we need to ensure that the Afghans are confident about the future," the official said.

Two narratives common among the Afghan people are working against success for coalition and Afghan forces, the official said: that coalition forces are there as occupiers, or that NATO will abandon Afghanistan after the transition to Afghan security lead is complete in 2014.

While the coalition has achieved "extraordinary progress" in defeating the Taliban and building Afghan forces, he said, it's now critical to address the Afghans' uncertainty.

Afghan soldiers and police are effective in their missions, but are increasingly distracted by fears about their personal futures, the official said. Coalition forces don't have to worry about whether they'll have a job, or get a paycheck, from year to year, he noted, but Afghan forces do.

If NATO can give Afghanistan's people solid assurances of the alliance's continued commitment beyond 2014, he said, "that's the one thing left, now, to advance the campaign forward."

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