Thursday, May 29, 2014, 11:04
Afghan planning still under way: US defence secy
By Associated Press

 Afghan planning still under way: US defence secy

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday it was not clear yet how many troops the US will use to battle terrorists in Afghanistan in the coming two years, but he expressed some confidence that the Afghan forces will improve enough to secure and govern their own country.

In his first public comments about the drawdown plans unveiled by President Barack Obama this week, Hagel acknowledged there still were a lot of unanswered questions about how many of the nearly 10,000 US forces remaining in the Afghanistan next year will be devoted to the counterterrorism mission. He said it also was unclear how many troops NATO and other international partners would contribute and what exactly those forces would do.

But he said he expected allies would make their decisions about the number and type of troops they would commit to the post-2014 mission in Afghanistan by the end of June. Hagel, who spoke to reporters traveling with him on a 12-day trip to Asia and Europe, expects to meet with NATO defense ministers next week.

Speaking in a hangar to a crowd of US troops, Hagel also said he will be traveling to Afghanistan during this overseas trip.

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that the US would leave 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan at the end of this year to continue training the Afghans and conduct counterterrorism missions. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, and most of the remainder would leave by the end of 2016.

Hagel said US military commanders believe those numbers are adequate to train and advise the Afghans and fight terrorists. And while he said "there are no guarantees,'' he suggested the plans laid out by Obama were enough to keep Afghanistan from backsliding into more terrorist violence like what has happened in Iraq since US troops left there.

The Afghan forces "are not yet where they need to be but the tremendous progress that has been made is significant,'' Hagel said.

Saying that the US will be "living with terrorism for many years,'' Hagel added that terrorist networks are getting smarter, more sophisticated and interconnected around the world.

The two-year withdrawal plan for Afghanistan is contingent on the next Afghan president signing a security agreement with the US Both candidates have said they would sign it.

The US has said its troops would be located largely in the southern and eastern sections of Afghanistan, while German troops would take the lead in the north and Italian troops in the west.