The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the Afghan military may need some operational support beyond the planned end of combat operations there in late 2014.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said he is assessing the Afghan forces’ “capability gaps” to determine whether “the gaps are significant enough…for us to consider filling” after 2014.
Pentagon officials recently acknowledged they are considering a so-called “bridging force” to help the Afghans fight the Taliban insurgents beyond December 2014.
The nature of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan remains unclear. Military officials say the U.S. is committed to providing long-term support to the Afghan military in an advisory role at the corps level, but questions remain about the level of tactical or operational support U.S troops may continue to provide beyond 2014.
Dunford, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon through a satellite link from his headquarters in Kabul, said he was not familiar with the term “bridging force,” but the idea is under consideration.
“If what you mean by ‘bridging force’ is that we will provide close-air support, intelligence support, logistics support — those are exactly the areas that I will assess and make a recommendation on come the fall,” Dunford said.
The term “bridging force” first emerged in May in a report co-authored by Dunford’s predecessor, Marine Gen. John Allen, who recently retired.
“I think what Gen. Allen is suggesting is that the Afghans may still need some support" after 2014, Dunford said.
There are about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. President Obama says that will fall to about 34,000 by February 2014. The combat mission will end in December 2014, but the U.S. and NATO plan to continue providing money and some form of military support indefinitely into the future, Obama says.
The White House has not publicly stated how many troops will stay beyond next year nor what their mission will be.