BRUSSELS -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said it will likely be the fall before he is ready to recommend how many troops the United States and its allies should keep in Afghanistan after combat troops leave in 2014 and what exactly their missions will be.
But Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters that NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels may be able to provide guidance Wednesday on what nations will commit to maintaining a presence in Afghanistan, what parts of the country they might cover and how broad the training and advising mission should be.
His comments come amid sharp debate over whether the United States should be more specific about its long-term military commitment to Afghanistan, and suggestions by some defense experts that NATO's plan for a residual force of 8,000 to 12,000 may not be large enough. Last week, retired Gen. John Allen and a former undersecretary of defense urged the White House to announce its plan as soon as possible.
"I'm certainly not prepared today to tell you exactly what we'll need post 2014," Dunford said.
U.S. and NATO officials revealed the range of troops at their last meeting here in February, and officials say those numbers are still the working plan. U.S. officials have said President Barack Obama may agree to leave up to 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to help train and advise the Afghan security forces and continue counterterrorism operations against extremists, but the public has grown increasingly impatient with the nearly 12-year-old war that has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
"I don't need specificity in numbers at this point," Dunford said. "What will be helpful to me is just get clarity and guidance on what it is that NATO wants to accomplish after 2014. And then I'll expect I'll be back here in six or eight months with a campaign assessment."
He said he wants to see how this year's fighting season goes and how well the Afghan's political process is advancing. He said he has argued that there should also be enough flexibility in the plans for commanders who will be there in 2015 and beyond.