NATO Agrees Outlines of 2015 Afghanistan Mission
NATO defence ministers agreed on Wednesday the broad outlines of its next mission in Afghanistan after it completes a difficult withdrawal from its longest combat operation in 2014. "We have just endorsed the detailed concept of our non-combat mission in Afghanistan" to guide military planners as they prepare NATO's advice and training program, alliance head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said "Resolute Support", will be based on a "limited regional approach", with operational centers in Kabul and around the country to train and advise some 350,000 Afghan government troops.
Asked about staffing levels for the new mission, Rasmussen said: "We have not decided the exact number."
Earlier this year there were some 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, two-thirds of them American, but they are being drawn down as local forces take over NATO's lead combat role.
It has not yet been decided how many will remain, with initial estimates of 8,000 to 12,000 now seen as possibly too low in the face of continued Taliban attacks which have stoked concerns the Afghan government remains vulnerable.
The Pentagon said it was considering plans for a larger, temporary US force to remain behind for up to three years (2017) to provide air power, medical evacuations and other support to the Afghan forces.
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said the United States would continue to play the leading role but he was non-committal on the numbers.
"We intend to be there for the long haul... we have time to sort out specific numbers," Hagel said. "I think we are all on the same page on this."
Afghan government forces are plagued by a myriad of problems, including a high rate of desertion, weak logistics and a fledgling fleet of helicopters.
Rasmussen also stressed the international community's commitment but said that "ultimately it is for the Afghans to determine their own future".
US-led forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban after the 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
Since then, NATO had spent time and effort to establish an Afghan military which could take over full responsibility for security from 2015, and a government which would have to ensure that democracy and human rights were respected, Rasmussen said.