Odierno suggests 8,000-man postwar force in Afghanistan

"I think ... my opinion is somewhere around 9,000, 8,000 is probably about the right number," Odierno said during Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee. 

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The four-star general did not say whether that number was a combined American and international force, or if his recommendation only covered the U.S. contribution to the postwar force. 

But that number would allow U.S. and allied commanders to continue training Afghan forces after the 2014 withdrawal deadline, while also conducting counterterrorism operations in the country, Odierno said. 

"We want to be able to have some special operations capability on the ground ... but we're continuing to work that," Odierno said.  

Reaction was mixed among Senate panel members to Odierno's postwar troop recommendation. 

Panel chair Sen. Carl Levin (R-Mich.) said he was not surprised by the 8,000 to 9,000 range in Odierno's recommendation. 

But the Michigan Democrat noted he would need more detail on the breakdown of that postwar force and whether that number would be purely U.S. service members. 

"I do not know that number he ended up with ... is our piece" or the combined U.S. and NATO force, Levin told The Hill on Tuesday. 

However, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) panned Odierno's recommendations shortly after the hearing. 

"That is not going to be enough," Graham said of the four-star general's postwar assessment for Afghanistan. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Odierno's recommendations would hold little weight in the ongoing debate inside the White House on the postwar plan for Afghanistan. 

While the Army chief's suggestions will be taken under consideration, the final call on postwar troop numbers will fall to Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. 

Graham and McCain have backed a 13,600-man U.S. force for Afghanistan after 2014, proposed by former Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis earlier this year. 

In March, Dunford and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham reportedly told House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) that they backed Mattis’s recommendation for 13,600 troops.

But Dunford backed off those claims during last week's hearing before the Senate defense panel on Afghanistan. 

Dunford told committee members the situation in the country was too fluid for him to support the 13,600-man U.S. force for postwar Afghanistan, saying said U.S. commanders needed more time before settling on a troop figure. 

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 the country will start coming home following Afghanistan’s presidential election in April 2014 — officially ending America’s combat role there.