NATO walking back troop cuts to Afghan forces

During this week's meeting at alliance headquarters in Brussels, NATO leaders said the option of maintaining the 352,000 Afghan military and national police forces beyond the 2014 American withdrawal would be critical "to build the confidence of Afghan forces," according to The Associated Press.

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It would also coincide with a recent White House decision to pull half of the 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan out of the country by the end of this year and accelerate the handover of all security operations to Afghan troops to this spring.

That said, the deal would "make it clear that NATO is committed to an enduring relationship with Afghanistan," a NATO official told the AP on the condition of anonymity. 

If approved by alliance members, including the United States, the deal to maintain the ranks of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would reverse an earlier decision to cut those forces down to 230,000 shortly after the combat forces of the U.S. and its allies pull out of the country. 

American and NATO military leaders during the alliance's annual summit in Chicago last May agreed to funnel $1.4 billion into Afghan coffers to maintain that smaller ANSF force. 

On Thursday, the NATO official declined to comment on what the new price tag would be to keep Afghan forces at the current levels through 2018. 

At the time, alliance leaders believed the 230,000-man strong ANSF would be enough to maintain gains made by American and NATO forces in the country, particularly in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan. 

The Chicago decision quickly came under scrutiny by several top congressional lawmakers, who claimed the lower troop number would not be enough to keep Taliban forces from retaking power in the country after 2014. 

In January, Senate Armed Services Committee 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 the ANSF troop cut. 

"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 Pentagon and White House are still reviewing plans for American involvement in Afghanistan past 2014. Those talks are based on recommendations made by Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the former top U.S. officer in Afghanistan, sent to DOD earlier this year. 

President Obama's decision to withdraw 34,000 U.S, troops from Afghanistan this year was reportedly based on Allen's recommendations.