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February 23, 2013

After the war, still work to do

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Just last week President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that by this time next year 34,000 U.S. troops will have left, with the rest of the combat force to depart by the end of 2014, along with their counterparts from NATO and other partner countries. Obama did not say how many troops he was willing to commit to a post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, but he is believed to be weighing options that range from about 3,000 to about 9,000.

At the Brussels meeting, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere caused an initial stir by telling reporters that Panetta had said the U.S. would keep 8,000 to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

Panetta denied that, saying he was talking about a combined U.S. and NATO force of 8,000 to 12,000, and de Maiziere later said his own comments to reporters were “misleading.”

Panetta said officials are planning to leave troops in all sectors of the country as well as in Kabul. Currently, Italy is leading the allied security presence in western Afghanistan, Germany in the north and the U.S. in the east and the south.

The Obama administration also is considering a plan to underwrite the cost of maintaining an Afghan security force of 352,000 for the next five years as part of an effort to maintain security and help convince Afghans that they will not be abandoned.

Last May, NATO agreed that the Afghan force would be reduced to about 230,000 after 2014. A force of that size would cost about $4.1 billion a year, compared to $6.5 billion this year for the bigger force of 352,000. The U.S. pays about $5.7 billion of that $6.5 billion bill.

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