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US to seek funding to ensure size of Afghan forces

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-03-24 16:55

US to seek funding to ensure size of Afghan forces

(L-R) Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shake hands after their news conference following diplomatic meetings at Camp David, Maryland, March 23, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

CAMP DAVID, United States - US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday that the Pentagon is seeking funding to ensure Afghan troops are maintained at its targeted peak level through 2017 as a move to show US commitment to strategic partnership with Afghanistan.

"As one part of that commitment, today, we can announce that the Defense Department intends to seek funding for Afghan forces to sustain an end-strength of 352,000 personnel through 2017," said Carter at a joint press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Carter said Afghan and coalition military commanders had jointly recommended the force size and acknowledged that the cost for maintaining the force size would be "significant" for both Afghanistan and international partners.

Currently, the level of Afghan forces stood at around 330,000. Carter said pinning down the targeted number of local forces is crucial for the country's stability.

There are 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan to provide training and other support. The Obama administration plans to reduce that number to around 5,500 by the end of 2015 and withdraw all troops by the end of President Barack Obama's presidency a year later.

However, Ghani has made clear on many occasions that such a timeline would jeopardize the security situation on the ground. Prior to his US visit, he had also repeatedly told US media that the extremist group Islamic State was targeting Afghanistan and gaining influence within the nation.

The White House on Monday reiterated its stance on Obama's plan to withdraw troops by the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017 but left open the possibility of leaving about 1,000 to 1,500 troops in Afghanistan for protection purpose.

"The president does envision a scenario where the US military presence in Afghanistan by early 2017 reflects the need to protect the substantial diplomatic presence that the United States will maintain in Afghanistan," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Ghani was expected to ask Obama in their meeting on Tuesday to reconsider the withdrawal schedule.

Noting that the decision on the number of US troops to be left in Afghanistan beyond 2016 would be made solely by Obama, Ghani stressed that strategic relations exist between the two nations in terms of national security.H "We are bound by common interests and will act together to ensure both the safety of the United States and the safety of Afghanistan," he said.

Ghani, who started his presidency last September, was currently on a five-day state visit to the United States to lay the groundwork for new relations between the two countries after more than a decade of strained ties under the leadership of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Describing Monday's meeting at Camp David as "productive," Kerry said Washington and Kabul shared "a commitment to security and peace and a desire to promote prosperity and social progress."

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