Sen. Levin: US ‘can't guarantee’ future funds for Afghan forces

Congress and the White House "can't guarantee anything" to the Afghan government by way of future funding for the country's fledgling security forces, a top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was in favor of a "robust commitment" by the United States to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

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But Kabul's demand that the White House commit in writing to continue financing security operations in a pending postwar pact with Afghanistan is "not the intent" of the upcoming deal, according to Levin.

"It is not appropriate to seek guarantees," he told The Hill on Wednesday. "We can't guarantee anything."

Levin's comments come a day after Afghan president Hamid Karzai demanded such guarantees be included in any postwar agreement with U.S. and coalition forces.

“They are providing us money, there is no doubt about that. But they say they will not mention the amount in the agreement," Karzai said in a Tuesday speech.

"We say: Give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less, but write it down,” he added.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is meeting with NATO counterparts this week at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels to hammer out the details of the postwar deal.

Afghan defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said last week he was confident a deal could be reached before NATO's annual summit in Chicago, which is set for May.

But with this recent demand, Kabul is "reaching beyond what is realistic," according to Levin.

The White House cannot unilaterally guarantee billions in military aid to Afghanistan or any other country without congressional approval for the funding, he said.

Karzai "is asking for something no president, or presidential nominee for that matter, can guarantee," Levin said. "This is not a dictatorship."

DOD estimates the ANSF will need between $4 billion to $5 billion annually to maintain its operations against the Taliban and other insurgent forces in the country. Afghan leaders have put that figure closer to $1 billion to $2 billion per year.

For his part, the issue is not the funding guarantee itself or even the amounts being discussed, Levin explained.

The Michigan Democrat said he was willing to support the Pentagon estimate "if it will make a difference" in Afghan-led security operations.

That figure would be peanuts compared to the roughly $30 billion to $40 billion DOD spends to keep U.S. troops in country, he said.

The key will be to make sure that Karzai, Wardak and the rest of Afghanistan's leadership remains committed to the 350,000-man force it initially wants to field after American and NATO troops leave.

Levin grilled Gen. John Allen, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in March on reports that Kabul planned to trim the ANSF down to just over 200,000 in 2017 -- just three years after coalition troops leave.

If Karzai sticks to that plan, no amount of money will help the country's security forces beat back the insurgency.

"We [must] keep the size of the [Afghan] army at the size it will reach" when U.S. forces leave, Levin said.