ABC News’ Luis Martinez reports:
Mitt Romney chose the tenth anniversary of the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan to deliver a national security address at the Citadel Friday. The former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate has said that if elected President he will order a full review of the current plan that calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal plan for Afghanistan by 2014.
“I will speak with our generals in the field, and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders,” he said. “The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.”
Romney has said in the past that he would like to bring home all U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and all 33,000 surge troops by the end of 2012. He has said that political thinking was behind the Obama administration’s plan to return surge forces back to the US by September, 2012. There are currently 96,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan.
But Romney may find that American military commanders are not planning for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan and are planning for American troops to remain there beyond 2014. Also, the United States is currently in talks with Afghanistan for a security framework that would allow for US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the security transition takes place in 2014.
In an interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz earlier this week, Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan said U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond that date. “We are probably going to have some military presence in Afghanistan for some period of time …beyond 2014.”
He said the size of the U.S. military force that remains is still being negotiated as part of the U.S.- Afghan security framework talks.
According to Allen, the troops that remain will be a mix of advisors, combat support troops and special operations forces that will continue to fight a counter-terrorism mission.
In late June, President Obama announced that the 33,000 surge troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of September as part of a phased withdrawal. Under the plan 10,000 troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of this year — 2,000 troops left in July as the first installment of that withdrawal. The remaining 23,000 are planned to be out by the end of September 2012.
Allen said he plans on holding onto the remaining 23,000 troops for as long as possible. “They are going to stay a long time, ” he says. “We’ll maintain that number as long as we can. ”
Allen believes he will likely request a task force of logisticians that would arrive just before the September date to bring out the remaining troops. “As long as I can hold them, we will bring them out at the last minute, and fly them out of the theater and the logisticians, this group of logisticians, this task force will move their equipment out of the theater.”
Last year, it was Afghan President Hamid Karzai who proposed 2014 as a target date by which the United States would transition the lead role for security in his country to Afghan security forces. The United States and its NATO allies later endorsed a timetable that would see that transition take place by the end of December, 2014.
While American military commanders foresee American forces remaining beyond 2014, that will not be the case in Iraq where all American forces will leave by year’s end according to a security agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in 2008. The U.S. and Iraq are currently involved in discussions that could leave a small U.S. military training force of several thousand to remain in Iraq.