Obama urged not to cut Afghan forces

The two top Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee are calling for the Obama administration to toss out plans for reducing the size of the Afghan security forces after 2014.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) sent a letter to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon urging the president to reconsider plans to reduce the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) after 2015 to 230,000. At its peak, the ANSF numbered 352,000.

The senators also said they supported establishing a “small number” of soldiers as the post-2014 U.S. force in Afghanistan.

“At the same time, we are convinced it will be necessary for the success of the mission, i.e. to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations, to reconsider the current plan to reduce the size of the ANSF,” the senators wrote.

The senators asked for President Obama to announce that he is reviewing the size of the ANSF at the same time he announces the size of the post-2014 force, in order to “help reinforce the point that we are not pulling out of Afghanistan.”

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Levin and Reed are touching on a debate over post-2014 Afghanistan — when NATO plans to hand off security control for the Afghans — that has flown under the radar amid discussions over the size of the U.S. force after 2014.

But the senators have long warned that reducing the size of the Afghan forces by 100,000 will leave a large number of soldiers without a job, potentially sending them back into the arms of the Taliban or other groups.

Supporters of the reduction say that boosting the size of the Afghan forces to 352,000 was always intended to be a temporary 'surge' measure, and that 230,000 will be sufficient to keep the Taliban at bay.

A big driver of the conversation is money: it may prove difficult to maintain high levels of international aid to Afghanistan after 2014, and the bill for the nation's operations will be higher, of course, with a larger security force.