At recent NATO planning meetings, officials have talked up a 12,000-man overall level for the occupation of Afghanistan starting in 2015. That would include both US and international troops, and is well short of the level sought by Centcom commander Gen. James Mattis.
Testifying to Congress today, Mattis said he wants at least 13,600 US troops, along with around 7,000 other NATO troops from other member nations, in the post-2014 era. The Pentagon has been talking up several different troop levels since last year, with Obama bringing up the prospect of no troops at all ahead of a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Keeping a 20,000+ occupation force of US-NATO troops past what is supposed to be the “end” of combat operations will make it even more difficult to sell the idea that the transition marks a meaningful change of anything beyond rhetoric.
Mattis gave no indication how long he envisioned the 20,000 troops staying, but President Obama has already signed a pact to keep troops in Afghanistan through 2024, so there seems to be nothing resembling a rush to exits.