In meetings at the Pentagon, Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi said, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta assured them that the United States would continue to supply military training and support so that Afghanistan’s defense forces could improve and be sustained beyond the December 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces.
Formal negotiations on the framework for an ongoing troop presence, as well as other forms of long-term U.S. support, began in Kabul on Tuesday after agreement over the weekend on controversial “night raids” on Afghan homes by U.S. Special Operations troops.
The Obama administration anticipates completion of the framework document before a NATO summit in May that will bring together the members of the U.S.-led military coalition and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The summit is not expected to determine the pace at which coalition combat troops will be withdrawn over the next 19 months, or the size of a U.S. follow-on force, but rather to confirm that the coalition will move into a support role for Afghan forces sometime next year.
The growth and training of Afghanistan’s security forces is a key part of coalition withdrawal planning. The Afghan army and national police are expected to reach their combined target strength of 352,000 this summer, several months ahead of schedule.
As the expensive, decade-long Afghanistan war has become increasingly unpopular at home, the Obama administration has emphasized the deadline for ending its combat commitment and begun soliciting international contributions to defray costs beyond 2014.
One way to cut expenses is to reduce the size of the Afghanistan force, which is funded almost entirely by foreign contributions. Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress last month that internal military analysis has concluded it could be reduced in size by as much as one-third by 2017.
In remarks to reporters Tuesday, Wardak said that an Afghan force level of 230,000 had been agreed upon as a “conceptual model for planning purposes” but that the number was “subject to revision” and he stressed the need for “flexibility” depending on conditions on the ground. That number, he said, was “based on the assumption of a degrading threat” from the Taliban.
Mohammadi said that they had discussed the need for additional police equipment and training with Panetta and had “received assurances” that the gaps “will be filled, especially as we approach 2014.”
Meanwhile, at least 18 police officers and civilians were killed in attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday in a spate of violence that coincided with the start of the traditional fighting season there.