BRUSSELS (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his German counterpart offered conflicting accounts Friday of a discussion about how many U.S. and European forces would remain in Afghanistan after the anticipated end of combat after 2014.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters Panetta had informed him at the Brussels meeting that the United States would leave between 8,000 and 10,000 troops in the war-torn country at the end of 2014.
But Panetta, speaking to reporters shortly after de Maiziere made his comments, called the remarks inaccurate.
Panetta, who will leave President Barack Obama’s Cabinet when his successor is confirmed, told reporters that he and the NATO partners instead talked about ranges of options for the post-2014 troop force. And he said the figures reflected contributions that other nations would make, in addition to the United States.
U.S. officials have yet to say publicly how many American troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014. But Panetta said officials are planning to leave troops in all sectors of the country — north, south, east and west — as well as in Kabul. Pentagon officials have said the military has mapped out plans to carry on its mission of training and advising the Afghan forces and also leave a small counterterrorism force to battle insurgents.
When asked about troop numbers, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that no decision had yet been made.
The Obama administration is considering a plan to maintain 352,000 Afghan troops for the next five years as part of an effort to maintain security and help convince Afghanistan that America and its allies will not abandon it once combat troops leave in 2014, senior alliance officials said Thursday. NATO officials are also widely considering that option.
Such a change, if NATO endorses it, could increase the costs to the U.S. and allies by more than $2 billion a year, at a time when most are struggling with budget cuts and fiscal woes. Last May, NATO agreed to underwrite an Afghan force of about 230,000, at a cost of about $4.1 billion a year after 2014. It costs about $6.5 billion this year to fund the current Afghan force of 352,000, and the U.S. is providing about $5.7 billion of that.
Panetta said Friday that he can defend that spending to Congress because it would give the U.S. more flexibility and savings as it withdraws troops from Afghanistan.
Maintaining the larger troop strength could bolster the confidence of the Afghan forces and make it clear that NATO is committed to an enduring relationship with Afghanistan, a senior NATO official said.
In private meetings with other defense ministers, Panetta warned allies that Washington’s fiscal impasse will have repercussions abroad, as impending budget cuts force the military to scale back its training and presence overseas.
Many of his meetings, however, centered on the plans to wind down the war in Afghanistan, including the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops over the next year and the transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan forces.
According to an Obama administration official, the Pentagon plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to about 60,500 by the end of May; then to 52,500 by November, keeping a relatively stable number of troops there during the peak fighting season. The sharpest cuts in U.S. troop strength will come over the winter months as the remaining 20,500 leave after the main fighting season. There currently are about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Panetta acknowledged those ranges of numbers on Friday, but also added that the U.S. would maintain the 34,000 through the Afghan elections, then withdraw the final combat troops toward the end of 2014.
The administration officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the numbers publicly.
This is Panetta’s fifth visit to Brussels for a NATO meeting — a trip he never intended to take. Expectations were that defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, would be confirmed by the Senate last week and he would travel to the meeting.
Hagel’s nomination stalled, however, as it got caught up in senators’ complaints about the attack in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead, including the ambassador. There are indications now that Hagel has support from enough senators to be confirmed next week.
Associated Press writers Don Melvin and Julie Pace contributed to this report.
Lolita C. Baldor can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lbaldor
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11