Pentagon officials say they expect that American troops would remain in Afghanistan after the US-backed mission ends in late 2014, despite international calls for withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. On February 3, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Washington would sustain a strategic partnership with Kabul, a “modest” number of US troops would stay in Afghanistan after the 2014 pullout deadline. "I've never heard anyone suggest -- no one has ever suggested zero to me. And I think that the ultimate number will be based on the mission and how deeply we want to be involved with their continued development, and also what they want. I mean, literally what the sovereign nation of Afghanistan wants," General Dempsey said.
The officials cited a decision by NATO heads of state during a summit meeting in the US city of Chicago in May 2012, saying that long-term support for Kabul would include military assistance."In Chicago, we also said that we’re committing to an enduring presence,” Panetta said, adding that “I believe that the president of the United States is going to do everything possible to implement the Chicago agreements.” The two officials, however, emphasized that no decision had been made on the exact number of troops to be present in Afghanistan beyond 2014. The Obama administration is contemplating a plan to keep up to 9,000 US troopers in Afghanistan to conduct, what it calls, counterterrorism operations and provide assistance to Afghan forces. On May 2, 2012, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and US President Barack Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement in Kabul, which would allow the US to keep some military bases in Afghanistan after key US forces withdraw from the country. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 under the pretext of fighting terrorism. The invasion removed the Taliban from power, but the country remains insecure despite the presence of tens of thousands of US-led forces there. MN/HN