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‘Too Soon’ For Post-2014 Troop Level Decision, Dempsey Says

By Claudette Roulo
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Although it is too soon to tell what the post-2014 troop arrangement will be in Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expects a decision by this summer, he said yesterday.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan today to, in part, hear from commanders on the ground what they think the Afghans need to help them develop, he said.

In an interview with reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan, Dempsey said evaluations are well underway on a range of options.

Each set of options is formed around a theme, Dempsey said.

“One is, at what level we will provide training and assistance … at the lowest tactical level, all the way up to the institutional level,” he said. Alternatively, training and assistance might be provided only at the institutional level.

What other agencies need to operate on the ground forms a second core question, the chairman said. He offered the U.S. Agency for International Development as one key organization to consider in post-transition planning.

The concerns of NATO partner nations must also be reconciled, Dempsey said. The NATO implementing directive for Afghanistan favors a hub-and-spoke approach to basing troops, he said.

“Once you … lay that template out, it begins to illuminate what the options are for the post-2014 presence,” the chairman said, “not only on basing, but on numbers.”

“I’m not in the camp that is trying to rush that decision,” he said, adding that he wants the Afghan security forces to have a chance to lead through two fighting seasons, as outlined in the NATO agreement signed last summer in Chicago. They will also be responsible for the security of the 2014 elections, Dempsey noted. “I want to see how they deal, frankly,” the chairman said.

Milestone 2013 will mark the point when the Afghan security forces are in the lead nationwide, Dempsey said. “It’ll be coming up here soon,” he added. “We haven’t exactly fixed the date.”

To ensure the drawdown progresses smoothly and according to schedule, “we’ve got to have a steady rate of retrograde,” Dempsey said.

“My military judgment is that the decision about the enduring presence, though it will be necessary to help us and our NATO allies plan, actually pinning it down is not a matter of urgency,” he said. Rather than a definitive number of troops, he said, a range would be prudent.