The International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan will have fewer than 100,000
soldiers by the end of the year, a top NATO official said Tuesday, as
the alliance prepares to withdraw all foreign combat troops in 2014.
"This means we will have redeployed almost 40,000 men by the end of this year," Major General Joseph Reynes, the director of operations at the Allied Joint Force Command headquarters in the Netherlands, told visiting reporters.
By the end of September, the number of ISAF soldiers is set to shrink from approximately 129,000 to 111,000, before falling below 100,000 by the end of the year.
That troop level is to be initially maintained into 2013. The ISAF mission is scheduled to end in late 2014.
Further withdrawals will follow once a political decision is made on a successor NATO mission that will continue training Afghan security forces.
Still to be determined is how many troops should be involved in the subsequent training mission, which depends in part on how the withdrawal of ISAF soldiers and material goes. Some 200,000 containers, for instance, are among the items that must be transported out of Afghanistan.
Top NATO officials hope that the political decision will come by mid-2013 at the latest.
"We need a decision as soon as possible," said General Wolf Langheld, the commander of the Allied Joint Force Command.
"We should give our political masters enough time to think about it," he added. "The absolute last moment for a decision about future presence would be spring or summer next year."
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