By Jeremy Herb - 01/14/13 07:57 PM EST
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), returning from a trip to Afghanistan, said he was optimistic about the country's future, but cautioned the U.S. would need to keep as many as 10,000 troops post-2014 to provide security.
McConnell, accompanied by other GOP senators who also expressed optimism, told reporters on a conference call Monday that Afghanistan could govern itself after 2014, so long as the United States leaves a residual force for training and special operations missions, according to the AP.
"My observation about Afghanistan at this point is this is the first time I've left there with a sense of optimism," McConnell said. "I think there's a widely held view among the American military leaders there — we met with [U.S. Afghan Commander] Gen. [John] Allen — that this has a very great potential for a happy ending after 2014, provided we have a residual force that we can provide for training."
Combat forces are scheduled to leave in 2014, when NATO hands security control to the Afghans.
"The message was pretty positive — that the Afghan troops are going to be ready to take over and monitor the situation there in their country when the United States and the international forces leave," Fischer told the Omaha World-Herald. "So that was good to hear."
Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were also on the trip with McConnell, which included stops in both Afghanistan and Israel.
The Obama administration is in the process of deciding how to draw down its troops in Afghanistan from the 66,000 currently stationed there.
President Obama said at a news conference Friday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the transition for Afghans to take the lead in combat missions would be accelerated to occur this spring, rather than the summer.
Obama hinted that he would like to continue a steady drawdown, and not keep the full 66,000 in Afghanistan through this year's fighting season, as defense hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have proposed.
The administration is also considering a range of options from a few thousand to 15,000 or more for a post-2014 force, where troops would mostly conduct training and special operations missions.
U.S. officials also said that a "zero option" was possible, where all U.S. troops would pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, similar to the U.S. drawdown in Iraq in 2011.
McConnell and Fischer both said they disagreed with that strategy.
"I think we're going to need a minimum of about 10,000 troops to provide adequate training and counterterrorism in the post-2014 period and we anticipate there will be forces from other countries that will remain here beyond 2014 as well," McConnell said, according to the AP.
U.S. and Afghan officials are negotiating a bilateral security agreement for a post-2014 force to follow the strategic partnership agreement that was reached last year.