Visiting Afghanistan today, new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed confidence in the ability of the Afghan government to “assume full responsibility for security by the end of 2014,” adding that it was “clear and achievable.”
Though Hagel included the typical “dangerous and difficult missions” ahead caveat, the comments may suggest that the newly appointed secretary may be leaning toward a smaller US presence in Afghanistan after 2014.
This would put him in opposition to Centcom head Gen. James Mattis, who earlier this week expressed support for a US and NATO deployment dramatically larger than what officials have been indicating was likely, calling for 13,600 US troops and 7,000 other NATO troops post-2014, more or less in perpetuity.
Hagel hasn’t specifically come out on the matter of specific troop levels, but has been seen as skeptical of open-ended military commitments and his suggestion of specific, finite goals may point to him setting the stage for an argument to reduce troop levels.
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