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Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels

Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels
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A bipartisan group of Senate Armed Services Committee members is urging President Obama to announce a decision on U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan prior to NATO conferences this summer.

“A timely decision on U.S. force levels is necessary so that our allies and partners can generate forces and make appropriate pledges for the Resolute Support Mission beginning in January 2017,” they wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday. “We urge you to announce any changes to our current planned force levels ahead of the relevant NATO conferences, giving the strongest consideration to the assessment of your military commanders and to conditions on the ground.”

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Right now, there are about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with plans to draw down to 5,500 by the end of the year.

But Gen. John Nicholson, who took command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in March, is completing a 90-day assessment on the security situation in the country in order to inform a recommendation on future troop levels. It’s widely expected he will recommend keeping more troops there than planned.

The senators urged Obama to give Nicholson’s recommendations “extraordinary weight.”

“We also believe that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan should be based on conditions on the ground and that considerations on troop levels should be driven first by what capabilities are needed to protect our national security interests in Afghanistan, and second by the number of troops it takes to enable those capabilities,” they added.

Two NATO conferences are scheduled this summer. The first is the Force Generation Conference starting June 8, and the second is the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland, starting July 8.

Obama should announce a decision before those conferences, the senators wrote, so NATO allies can plan their own troops levels.

“As has long been the case, we believe our NATO allies and partners will follow our lead in Afghanistan,” they wrote. “Additionally, we do not think we are going to learn anything in the next several months that we do not know now. Should you decide to revise the planned number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 2017, we urge you to announce such a decision before the relevant NATO conferences convene and inform our partners and allies of that decision so they can plan accordingly.”