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NATO endorses Afghan troop plan

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s president got reassurance Tuesday that NATO intends to backstop his troubled nation’s security long beyond 2014, after NATO’s chief endorsed keeping Afghanistan’s security forces at the current strength for years to come.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said keeping the Afghan force larger for longer is more cost effective, and it would be more acceptable to Afghans than foreign soldiers.

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He spoke after meeting with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Monday.

‘‘From the political point of view, it is better to give the defense . . . an Afghan face, and from an economic point of view, it’s less expensive to finance Afghan security forces than to send foreign troops,’’ he said at a NATO base in Helmand Province.

Fogh Rasmussen was commenting on a proposal favored by the Afghan government — and debated by NATO ministers in Brussels last month — to keep 352,000 Afghans in uniform through 2018. NATO is due to turn over security duties to local forces next year and pull out most of its troops. Fogh Rasmussen said most troops in Helmand have already traded combat patrols for advising the Afghans as they do the fighting.

The Afghan army has grown to 184,676 soldiers and the country’s police force numbers 146,339 officers, just short of the planned 352,000 total, according to figures shared by NATO this week.

NATO had planned to shrink that combined force to 230,000 next year, but US military and Afghan officials have both suggested keeping the Afghan security forces at their higher ‘‘surge’’ numbers.

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