Officials Discuss Troop Numbers, Partnership With Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2012 — Troop num­bers — both Afghan and coali­tion — were among the ques­tions posed to senior offi­cials dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today.

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the com­man­der of the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, and James N. Miller, act­ing under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy, told sen­a­tors that train­ing Afghan sol­diers and police is going well, but it will require patience to ensure the job is done cor­rect­ly.

The Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces will surge to 352,000 lat­er this year. But the Afghan gov­ern­ment can­not afford to keep that many peo­ple in the secu­ri­ty forces long-term, so that num­ber will come down in the future, Allen said.

One study, the gen­er­al said, points to a long-term force in the vicin­i­ty of 230,000.

“But there are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent options,” he added, “and we’re con­tin­u­ing to eval­u­ate what those options might be, all the way from the cur­rent force, … which will con­tin­ue to exist for sev­er­al years once we have field­ed it, down to a force that was small­er than [230,000], which prob­a­bly doesn’t have the right … com­bi­na­tion of capa­bil­i­ties.”

Any deci­sion on the size of the force will be made in the future by Afghan lead­ers work­ing with coali­tion per­son­nel, Allen said. What’s more, any reduc­tion must be made only after a care­ful study of con­di­tions on the ground. “That secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment will be ulti­mate­ly the key indi­ca­tor of whether that draw­down should ulti­mate­ly occur, so it’ll be con­di­tions-based,” the gen­er­al said.

Allen sub­mits the met­rics involved with these stud­ies every six months. The next set of sta­tis­tics will include an eval­u­a­tion of sce­nar­ios after Decem­ber 2014.

The Unit­ed States has 89,000 troops in Afghanistan today. That num­ber will go down by 23,000 by the end of the sum­mer fight­ing sea­son. Allen told the Sen­ate pan­el that once that is done he will exam­ine the size of the force and the like­ly threat it will face in 2013. “My opin­ion is that we will need sig­nif­i­cant com­bat pow­er in 2013,” he said.

Allen said 68,000 U.S. troops “is a good going-in num­ber,” but he told the sen­a­tors he owes the pres­i­dent fur­ther analy­sis on that issue.

Miller stressed the need for a strate­gic part­ner­ship with Afghanistan that will last long after Afghans take full secu­ri­ty con­trol of their nation by the end of 2014.

“The pres­i­dent has stat­ed clear­ly that we have an endur­ing com­mit­ment to Afghanistan, and the strate­gic part­ner­ship will be a con­crete instan­ti­a­tion of that,” he said. “There will be a lot of work to do after that, but it’s a crit­i­cal mile­stone.”

Despite the past tumul­tuous months, Miller said, he is encour­aged by progress made in nego­ti­at­ing the strate­gic part­ner­ship.

Sen­a­tors also asked the men about cor­rup­tion and Pak­istan. A num­ber of pro­grams aimed at curb­ing gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion appear to be mak­ing progress, Allen said. He praised Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai for his “good work” on the issue.

“He has appoint­ed a pres­i­den­tial exec­u­tive com­mis­sion, head­ed by Min­is­ter of Finance [Omar] Zakhilw­al, to part­ner with ISAF and with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty on the issues of reclaim­ing bor­ders, inland cus­toms depots, and air­ports,” he said. “That’s an impor­tant move.”

The gen­er­al told the sen­a­tors he has not seen any change in the rela­tion­ship between Pakistan’s Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence agency and the Haqqani net­work, an issue that has con­tributed to strained rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan.

Iran also is a neigh­bor of Afghanistan, and Iran­ian influ­ence has to be tak­en into account as Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces take con­trol, the gen­er­al said.

“Just as nature abhors a vac­u­um, so do geopol­i­tics,” he said. “And should the Unit­ed States leave Afghanistan — should ISAF, should NATO leave Afghanistan — that would cre­ate, in my mind, for all intents and pur­pos­es, a geopo­lit­i­cal vac­u­um, ahead, how­ev­er, of the [Afghan forces] being ready to take full secu­ri­ty.”

Miller stressed that a sta­ble Afghanistan is in the inter­ests of all nations in the region.

“While the Ira­ni­ans may not be hap­py about an Amer­i­can pres­ence there, … nonethe­less, the Afghan peo­ple desire it,” he said. “And that pres­ence ulti­mate­ly works to Iran’s ben­e­fit as well, because it will affect the cross-bor­der flow of nar­cotics, the cross-bor­der flow of weapons and human traf­fick­ing.”

About 1.5 mil­lion Afghan refugees are in Iran, Miller not­ed. “They might be able to go home in a sta­ble Afghanistan,” he said.

Miller reit­er­at­ed the impor­tance of the strate­gic part­ner­ship. It is essen­tial for secu­ri­ty and also affects per­cep­tions of the Tal­iban and oth­ers, includ­ing Iran, he said.

Iran­ian lead­ers have played both sides of the fence in Afghanistan, Miller said.

“They have pro­vid­ed some sup­port to the Afghan gov­ern­ment and they’ve pro­vid­ed some sup­port to the Tal­iban,” he told the pan­el. “If they see it in their inter­est to stir the pot and so forth, I think that … the strate­gic part­ner­ship, the advance­ment of the [Afghan forces] and the clear expres­sion of com­mit­ment by the Unit­ed States and the coali­tion is going to have to cause them to recal­cu­late. And that’s essen­tial.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)