In his opening statement, Chuck Hagel offered no details about how many U.S. troops he would support keeping in Afghanistan once the NATO combat mission there ends in 2014.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan wants to keep around 10,000 troops there. White House officials favor a far smaller number, reportedly less than 6,000. The issue likely will be decided by President Obama in the next few weeks.
Here's what Hagel said:
First, we have a plan in place to transition out of Afghanistan, continue bringing our troops home, and end the war there – which has been the longest war, as well all know, in America’s history. As you know, discussions are ongoing about what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will look like after 2014. The President has made clear – and I agree – that there should be only two functions for U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan after 2014: counterterrorism – particularly to target al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and advising Afghan forces. It’s time we forge a new partnership with Afghanistan, with its government and, importantly, with its people.
Read his full prepared remarks here.