Mattis urges keeping 20,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan

Gen. Mattis favors a larger U.S. and allied presence in Afghanistan after 2014 than the Pentagon is considering

From Gopal Ratnam, Bloomberg:  The general who heads the U.S. Central Command went beyond the Pentagon’s positions today on issues including how many troops to keep in Afghanistan, giving candid testimony to Congress as he prepares to step down.

Marine Corps General James Mattis, who is retiring this month, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he favors a larger U.S. and allied presence in Afghanistan after 2014 than the Defense Department is considering.

Mattis, 62, said his “recommendation is for 13,600 U.S. forces.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization would probably add about 50 percent of the U.S. strength, for a total exceeding 20,000, Mattis said. That’s far more than the 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussed with his European counterparts in Brussels last month. President Barack Obama has yet to announce the size of the residual force after most U.S. troops depart.

“If the Afghan security forces continue to mature and become capable, then we can do a smaller number,” Mattis told reporters after testifying. “We have a lot of reasons to believe that Afghan National Security Forces are improving all the time.”

Mattis endorsed a NATO proposal to help maintain an Afghan military force of 352,000 beyond 2016.

The U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating a bilateral security agreement that may determine how many U.S. troops will remain after the bulk of the U.S. troops leave the country in 2014. (photo: Defense Tech)

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