By Carlo Muñoz - 03/14/13 05:03 PM EDT
Dunford, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, voiced their support to deploy 13,600 American forces in Afghanistan after the administration's 2014 deadline to have all U.S. combat troops out of the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Dunford and Cunningham emphasized that the postwar force was not a hard recommendation, noting that negotiations between the Pentagon, White House and Kabul were still underway over what that U.S. presence would look like, the Journal reports.
The postwar plan backed by Dunford and Cunningham falls in line with recommendations made by former Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis, who outlined that 13,600 U.S. force to lawmakers on March 5.
However, that troop suggested by Mattis and supported by Dunford number would allow Washington to maintain the gains made in Afghanistan over the 12-year war, according to American officials.
But the number would also quash Taliban claims the U.S. was sending an occupying force into the country after the war's end, since it dwarfed the 20,000-man force that also had been under consideration by President Obama.
Gen. John Allen, former head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, suggested as little as 6,000 U.S. soldiers or as many a 20,000 could remain in country after 2014.
The White House has reportedly championed a postwar U.S. force of between 8,000 to 10,000 troops. Administration officials have also floated the notion of leaving no American soldiers behind after the withdrawal deadline.
Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who replaced Mattis as the head of Central Command, and Dunford will be the top U.S. officers in the region to oversee that postwar force once the troop numbers are finalized.
As postwar planning continues in Washington and Kabul, American ground commanders are planning for a "gentle" drawdown of U.S. forces in the country, in preparation for the final 2014 withdrawal.
"Commensurate with our troop strength, there will be a gentle reduction" in American air support and artillery units in southern Afghanistan, as well as teams that uncover and clear improvised explosive devices, to allow Afghan forces to pick up those missions, Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Abrams, who heads Regional Command-South, noted those units will not completely disappear from the battlefield "but it'll be an overall reduction of our force over time."
Dunford's comments on Thursday come weeks after NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance plans to have its postwar strategy and troop numbers finalized by June.
"I would expect [troop numbers] to be finalized very soon because we also need to start planning," he said after meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai earlier this month.
While the actual force numbers are still in flux, Rasmussen was was able to provide Karzai and other top Afghan defense officials details on the NATO postwar mission, dubbed Operation "Resolute Support."
Roughly 66,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, with half of those forces scheduled to withdraw from the country this spring.
The final 32,000 American forces remaining in country will start coming home following the country's presidential election in April 2014 — officially ending America's combat role in Afghanistan.