US preparing for a slimmer force in Afghanistan post 2014
To head off a threat of a civil war waged by a resurgent Taliban, US has finalised plans for retaining a small force of up to 9,000 troops in war-torn Afghanistan, post its withdrawal in 2014.
Washington is also giving a boost to Afghan-Afghan reconciliation ahead of a drawdown and a key decision on how many American troops will stay on in the war-torn nation will be made during President Hamid Karzai's next week talks with US President Barack Obama.
Top American commander in Afghanistan Gen John Allen had submitted recommendations to Pentagon to keep 6,000 to 20,000 US troops in the country after 2014.
Allen, the senior US commander in Afghanistan, has submitted his much awaited recommendations on the nature and strength of US presence in the country after 2014.
But Wall Street Journal quoting Pentagon officials said the plans being prepared now had scaled down the American forces' presence, leaving roughly 3,000, 6,000 or 9,000 troops in the country.
The paper said the troops which would stay on would be Rapid Forces capable of launching lightening strikes against the militants and would also continue training the Afghan Army and police.
Quoting Pentagon officials, the paper said that the new policy being evolved would heighten the American reliance on drones to monitor and target militants after most manned aircrafts and their pilots pull out.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said the slimmed-down force would focus on al-Qaeda, which was sheltered by the erstwhile Taliban government, from regaining a foothold in the war-shattered nation.
"We hope to arrive at an agreement during the visit to Washington of Karzai," US officials told the paper.
Going into 2013, the number of foreign troops battling the Taliban-led insurgency in
Afghanistan has dropped to 100,000 from about 150,000. There are currently only 66,000 US troops on the Afghan soil.
Pentagon spokesman George Little has confirmed that the post 2014 force would top the agenda in talks with Karzai.
"General Allen has passed his recommendation to the secretary (Panetta) and we expect to arrive at a final conclusion soon."