BRUSSELS - The United States, its European allies, and the Afghan government have coalesced around a plan to spend about $4.1 billion a year on Afghan Army and police forces after the end of combat operations in late 2014, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday.
The money would pay for a force of about 230,000 Afghan Army and police officers, which is significantly less than the longstanding plan to increase the Afghan forces to about 350,000 by this fall.
The United States and its Afghan allies have not abandoned the plan to build the larger Afghan force, which is needed to cover the withdrawal of US and NATO troops in 2013 and 2014, US officials said. But the larger force, which costs about $6 billion annually, is not seen as affordable over the long term in a country with a weak economy and little governance.
The discussions over the size and makeup of the Afghan security forces are a key part of the discussions among senior military and diplomatic officials who are meeting in Brussels this week to finalize plans to end NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan and turn control of the country over to the Afghan government.
“It is a good planning basis,’’ said Rasmussen of the $4.1 billion figure. “I would urge allies and partners to commit themselves to an overall framework on financing Afghan security forces.’’
No final decisions have been made on how quickly to shrink the Afghan security forces after the end of combat operations in 2014. US officials said the size of the Afghan Army and police will be determined by the strength of the Taliban insurgency, but the $4.1 billion figure seems to have been driven as much by financial considerations as the conditions on the ground.
The cash-strapped Afghan government has expressed concern in recent days over the West’s willingness to keep paying for Afghan Army and police forces after combat operations have ended and most US forces have returned home. President Hamid Karzai, who faces a resilient insurgency aimed against his corruption-plagued government, suggested Tuesday that any long-term security pact should include a commitment by Washington to pay billions of dollars for the Afghan forces.
US officials balked at Karzai’s request to include a dollar figure in the security pact. The Obama administration hopes the pact will be finalized by next month when NATO leaders meet in Chicago to formalize the way ahead in Afghanistan. The conference in Brussels this week is intended to resolve any lingering disputes ahead of the Chicago conference.