On Thursday, DOD press secretary George Little warned reporters at the Pentagon not to draw any "grand conclusions" over troop figures reportedly submitted by Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Allen's plan features three different scenarios for postwar American presence in Afghanistan, according to a report in the New York Times on Thursday. One scenario would have a 6,000-man U.S. force remain in the country after the White House's 2014 deadline.
The two other scenarios focused on a U.S. military footprint of roughly 10,000 and 20,000 troops, respectively, the Times reports.
The proposal with the smallest number of American soldiers suggested by Allen would be tasked strictly with counterterrorism operations inside Afghanistan, leaving the bulk of the U.S. and NATO-led security mission to the Afghans.
With a 10,000-man force, U.S. forces would be able to continue the training and advising the Afghan National Security Forces, while continuing to execute the counterterrorism mission, DOD sources tell the Times.
The final, and largest, scenario presented by Allen would have upwards of 20,000 American boots on the ground in Afghanistan, carrying out counterterrorism, training and some conventional combat missions in the country after 2014, according to the report.
The Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the specific numbers reported Thursday, but did note the overall U.S. withdrawal plan in Afghanistan is "not just about troops on the ground."
Whatever U.S. force structure DOD and the administration settle on, that troop number will be supplemented by cadres of American diplomatic and intelligence personnel, all working in country after the 2014 deadline, according to Little.
Those American military, intelligence and diplomatic corps will also be backed up by their counterparts from a various allied countries who also plan to play a role in postwar Afghanistan once all U.S. and NATO combat troops leave in the next year and a half.
"We expect to have a [international] coalition ... that nurtures a relationship beyond 2014" with Afghanistan, Little said Wednesday.
As expected, Allen's post-2014 recommendations did not include any details as to how soon the remaining 68,000 U.S. servicemen and women would begin redeploying out of Afghanistan. The last of the 30,000 American troops surged into Afghanistan in 2009 arrived stateside this past summer.
The recommendations will also likely be Allen's final contributions to the department's Afghan strategy.
Allen is scheduled to step down as the top American officer in Afghanistan on Feb. 10, replaced by Gen. Joseph Dunford. The former Marine Corps deputy commandant was confirmed by the Senate to replace Allen late last year.
His departure comes as the Pentagon's Inspector General's office continues its investigation into Allen's participation in a wide-ranging sex scandal that forced former four-star Gen. David Petraeus from the top spot at CIA last year
His alleged role in the Petraeus affair may have promoted DOD to limit his involvement in postwar planning, particularly on mapping out the withdrawal schedule for the remaining American forces in Afghanistan.
In response, Little reiterated DOD's stance that the decision to omit any troop withdrawal details in Allen's plan was not associated in any way to Allen's ties to the Petraeus incident.
That said, the Pentagon inquiry into Allen's role is still ongoing, Little noted.