The American general leading NATO forces in Afghanistan said today that US troops should remain in the country after 2014, suggesting further unrest after the UN mission expires.
Speaking to a senate committee hearing for the first time since taking over in February, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said Afghans are leery of losing international support.
“Many Afghans have told me they no longer fear the Taliban as much as they fear what will happen after 2014,” Dunford said, according to The Washington Post.
“There is a growing sense that December 2014 is a cliff for the Afghan people.”
Dunford didn’t have specific numbers in mind, saying he needed to gauge how well Afghan security forces fared this summer before offering a recommendation.
Lawmakers have been pressing US commanders to release recommendations for how many troops should remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw most US forces, Reuters reported.
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Committee member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Dunford that vague assessments are hurting the mission.
“One of the reasons we’re having so much difficulty in some areas is because the Afghans don't know what our commitment is,” he said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in your testimony, general.”
The reason for Dunford’s hesitation is to gauge how well Afghans can defend themselves against terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, USA Today said.
The Afghan security force now numbers about 350,000, while US troops numbers are expected to reach 34,000 from 63,000 by next year.
“I believe this summer will be the bellwether for Afghan performance into 2014,” Dunford said, according to USA Today.