BRUSSELS — Germany and Italy have committed to join the United States in helping to train Afghan troops after combat operations cease at the end of next year, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
Absent from the announcement was reference to the closest U.S. ally, Britain, which has been the second-largest source of troops in the 11-year Afghanistan war. Britain is expected to contribute to the training and mentoring, but has not yet pledged a specific role in what promises to be a dramatically reduced international mission 18 months from now.
Germany will take the lead in the north of Afghanistan and Italy in the west, diplomats said after a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers in Brussels, while Hagel said Turkey is considering becoming the lead nation in the capital, Kabul.
They spoke after NATO defense ministers met behind closed doors and agreed on a “concept of operations” for a “train, advise and assist” mission in Afghanistan beginning in January 2015.
“Over the last 11 years we have given the Afghans the space to build their future,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a separate news conference. “With this new mission we will continue to support them. But ultimately it is for the Afghans to determine their own future.”
The agreement does not include specific troop numbers.
“So far we haven’t decided the exact number,” Rasmussen said. “That decision will be taken at a later stage … I feel confident that we will get enough contributions” to ensure that the mission “will be fully manned.”
Rasmussen offered few details about the plan, other than a name, “Resolute Support.” He said NATO trainers will be located in five places: Kabul, the capital, and the “north, west, south and east” of the country.
“I feel confident that by the end of 2014, the Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security and provide that secure environment for the Afghan people that is essential for further economic and social development,” Rasmussen said.
The alliance has agreed informally that a post-2014 training force should number around 8,000 to 12,000 troops, but few countries have formally promised to participate alongside the U.S.
“We’re transitioning, not leaving,” Hagel said. “We intend to be [in Afghanistan] for the long haul.”
Hagel declined to describe what American officials have discussed as a separate counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan undertaken by special operations forces. But he said, “Anything we do in Afghanistan has to have the sign-off of the Afghan government.”