Mattis wants 13,600 after 2014

Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, wants 13,600 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the military’s target deadline for ending combat operations. Mattis revealed for the first time publicly his recommended footprint for post-war Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. After 2014, the U.S. and its ...

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, wants 13,600 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the military’s target deadline for ending combat operations.

Mattis revealed for the first time publicly his recommended footprint for post-war Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. After 2014, the U.S. and its NATO allies want to keep some number of conventional and special operations troops for some years in Afghanistan, maintaining a forward presence from which to continue hunting terrorist networks along the Pakistan border and train Afghan security forces. The only question has been how many troops will contributing nations and the government Afghanistan agree to support. Mattis said he assumed NATO would provide about 50 percent of the 13,600, if accepted.

Two weeks ago, in Brussels, NATO defense ministers, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, deliberated leaving a training force behind sized at roughly 8,000 to 12,000 NATO troops, including Americans. Since January, published reports have described White House officials as considering a deployed force of between 3,000 and 9,000 U.S. troops.

Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, wants 13,600 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the military’s target deadline for ending combat operations.

Mattis revealed for the first time publicly his recommended footprint for post-war Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. After 2014, the U.S. and its NATO allies want to keep some number of conventional and special operations troops for some years in Afghanistan, maintaining a forward presence from which to continue hunting terrorist networks along the Pakistan border and train Afghan security forces. The only question has been how many troops will contributing nations and the government Afghanistan agree to support. Mattis said he assumed NATO would provide about 50 percent of the 13,600, if accepted.

Two weeks ago, in Brussels, NATO defense ministers, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, deliberated leaving a training force behind sized at roughly 8,000 to 12,000 NATO troops, including Americans. Since January, published reports have described White House officials as considering a deployed force of between 3,000 and 9,000 U.S. troops.

In the Pentagon, defense officials have been eager to describe how they are deliberating over potential size of the “residual force," but they have been less willing to discuss the exact size of the American fighting force to be kept in country this year, a decision solely in the hands of President Obama.

There are 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan presently. President Obama, in January’s State of the Union Address, announced that 34,000 troops would be withdrawn by next January. Panetta said in Belgium that more than 60,000 would remain through the summer’s annual so-called fighting season. Another bulk drawdown is expected after the April 2014 Afghan presidential elections, Panetta said.

“There may be more reductions we could take,” Mattis told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), in the next four years through 2018, if Afghan forces continue to train up at their current rate. Mattis testified alongside Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of Special Operations Command.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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