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Preparing for Post-2014 Afghanistan

American and allied military planners are drawing up the broad outlines of a force that would remain in Afghanistan following the handover to Afghan security after 2014, including a small counterterrorism force with an eye toward Al Qaeda, senior officials say.

Under the emerging plan, the American counterterrorism force might number less than 1,000, one military official said. In a parallel effort, NATO forces would advise Afghan forces at major regional military and police headquarters but most likely have a minimal battlefield role, with the exception of some special operations advisers.

Final decisions on the size of the American and NATO presence after 2014 and its precise configuration have not been made by the United States or its allies. But one option calls for about 10,000 American and several thousand non-American NATO troops.

The planning for a post-2014 mission has emerged as an early test for President Obama in his new term as he tries to flesh out the strategy for transferring the responsibility for security to the Afghans. But it is not the only challenge: After the White House decides what sort of military presence to propose to the Afghan government for after 2014, it must turn to the question of how quickly to reduce its troop force before then.

As one of his last acts as senior American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen is expected to submit a formal recommendation for how quickly to begin withdrawing the United States’ 66,000 troops. Two American officials who are involved in Afghan issues said that General Allen wants to keep a significant military capability through the fighting season ending in fall 2013, which could translate to a force of more than 60,000 troops until the end of that period.

Afghan forces are to assume the lead role for the war next year, and a military officer said that such a troop level would enable the United States to better support them, maintain the initiative and control critical terrain.

But such an approach may entail a heavier military involvement than the White House, which appears weary of the war, might like. . .

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