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U.S. needs "significant combat power" in Afghanistan: U.S. commander

(Xinhua)

09:08, March 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, March 22 (Xinhua) -- John Allen, commander of the U. S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Thursday that the U.S. will need to maintain "significant combat power" in Afghanistan next year.

"My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013," Allen said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Approximately 90,000 American troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, with 23,000 of them due home by this summer and 68, 000 remaining there. There has been no schedule set for the withdrawal of the remaining troops.

"Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number, but I owe the president some analysis on that," Allen said, adding that he will conduct a comprehensive analysis from October to December before making a formal recommendation to the White House.

U.S. military leaders have long argued for keeping a substantial number of combat troops in Afghanistan through 2014, when the U.S. and NATO forces are set to pull out most of their troops and hand over lead security responsibility to Afghan forces.

But as the relationship between Washington and Kabul soured in recent months in the aftermath of the massacre of Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier and the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base, Americans' support for the decade-long war seemed to be waning and more are in favor of a faster withdrawal.

The White House on Thursday dodged questions about whether the administration thinks there's a will among the American public to support that large of a military presence, as Allen suggested, in Afghanistan next year.

"What General Allen was referring to is that 68,000 troops which will remain after the withdrawal of the surge forces is a good number going into the period of the post-surge-withdrawal period," White House press secretary Jay Carney said during his press gaggle on route Columbus, Ohio.

"But the president's position has not changed, and that position is that we will steadily draw down U.S. troops as we continue to transition security lead to Afghan security forces as they continue to be trained and their numbers increase," he said.

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