The NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that they have decided to continue their Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
“On Afghanistan, what we have decided is that we will continue our Resolute Support mission, we will have what we call a flexible regional approach – meaning that we will continue of course to be in Kabul, but also out in the different regions,” Stoltenberg said following a meeting of defense ministers.
“We are now working on the final decisions for our exact force numbers into 2017, so that’s something we will decide later on this year, but the thing is that we will continue in Afghanistan, also with regional presence. We will continue to advise and train and assist Afghan national forces, because we are very much committed to continue to support Afghans.”
Meanwhile, U.S Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed on Wednesday morning in Brussels that American forces in Afghanistan now will be able to boost support for Afghan conventional forces with more firepower and by accompanying and advising them on the ground and in the air.
Carter had been speaking during a news conference after this week’s NATO defense minister’s conference about U.S support of Afghan ground forces as a means to promote security and stability in Afghanistan at the NATO defense minister’s conference in Brussels.
Based on his recommendations and those of Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Carter said, President Barack Obama decided to grant more flexibility to U.S forces in Afghanistan this year.
The new authority means U.S troops can more proactively support Afghan conventional forces in two critical ways: with more American firepower, especially through close air support, and by accompanying and advising Afghan conventional forces on the ground and in the air, he explained.
“In practical terms, this means U.S forces will have more opportunities to accompany and enable Afghan conventional forces, just like we have already been doing with Afghan special operations forces,” the secretary said.
“As I told my fellow defense ministers,” Carter added, “this supports our ongoing counterterrorism and force-protection missions there [and] NATO’s Resolute Support mission, because a more capable Afghan force only makes our [deployed] forces … more secure, and it will help the Afghans … as we prepare for the U.S. and NATO missions in 2017.”
Carter said U.S defense budget planning includesfull funding for Afghan national defense and security forces through 2020, and that he learned from NATO counterparts that they also intend to provide funding through 2020 for the Afghan national security forces.
“Regarding U.S troop levels for future years,” the secretary said, “the current plan announced last August is for 9,800 U.S service members to remain in Afghanistan for most of this year and … to draw down that number to 5,500 by the end of the year.”
Since then, he said, other nations also have decided to commit to having forces in Afghanistan beyond this year.
“This commitment will be part of NATO’s flexible regional approach to the Resolute Support mission,” Carter said.
“The United States will continue to lead the NATO effort in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and we will continue to provide coalition partners with sufficient enabling capabilities needed for their own presence, particularly in northern and western Afghanistan.”