Report: Panetta visits Afghanistan to discuss future troop levels

Reports said Panetta would consult with U.S. commanders and with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The meetings come as the White House begins to weigh proposals for post-war troop numbers after 2014.

On Wednesday, Panetta said he expected a decision from President Obama in the coming weeks on how many troops will remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. and NATO hand off security responsibilities to local forces. 

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“Part of the reason for this trip is to talk with [U.S. Commander in Afghanistan] Gen.  [John] Allen and to discuss with him some of the options that are being prepared for the president's consideration,” Panetta told CBS News. “Our hope is that we can complete that process in the next few weeks.”

Currently, the U.S. and NATO are scheduled to remove all combat troops from the country by 2014 and hand over security responsibility to local Afghan forces.

Reports last month said the administration is weighing plans that could keep as many as 10,000 service members in Afghanistan after that date. 

Plans to maintain a sizable military presence could face opposition from Democratic lawmakers, who have pushed for the president to hold to the current drawdown timetable. 

Republicans, though, have cited continuing violence in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal from that country and expressed concerns Afghanistan could experience similar instability.

A recent Defense Department report sent to Congress on Monday said that Taliban violence in the country had spiked in the last three years. Officials also said that of the 20 Afghan brigades being trained to take over security duties, only one was able to operate without U.S. support.

Panetta on Wednesday said that once Obama decided how many troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the Pentagon could determine the rate of withdrawal of existing forces. Currently 68,000 American troops are stationed in Afghanistan.

Karzai has said he is open to a post-2014 U.S. military role, but wants an agreement that would place American troops under the jurisdiction of Afghan courts. U.S. reluctance to accept a similar demand from Iraqi leaders led to the failure to secure a post-war military presence in that country.