With NATO nations looking to accelerate their withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, U.S. allies, including Japan and South Korea, are expected to face pressure to subsidize the Afghan military’s attempt to fill the vacuum.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters accompanying him to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Feb. 2 and 3 that he wanted to end the combat mission of the approximately 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the latter half of 2013.
That is one year before the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had been scheduled to leave, and echoes similar noises coming out of a cash-strapped French government.
Panetta has indicated that Washington will seek financial contributions from non-NATO allies, including Japan and South Korea, as well as nations in the Middle East, to finance training of the Afghan military and increasing the nation’s troop strength from the current 300,000.
On Jan. 27, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that all French troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, one year earlier than originally scheduled.
The trigger for the Sarkozy announcement was the killing of four French soldiers by a member of the Afghan military, but, with the French presidential election coming up in April, Sarkozy may be looking to gain credit with French voters for ending an unpopular military entanglement.
The U.S. administration has announced plans to cut spending by $259 billion (about 20 trillion yen) over the next five years in an attempt to reduce the U.S. fiscal deficit. An early end to the mission in Afghanistan will help to reduce the annual cost of about $88 billion for maintaining troops there.
Other European nations with fiscal problems also want to reduce their military burdens as soon as possible.
According to a report from AFP-Jiji, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said he was not criticized by his counterparts when he announced the plan for an early withdrawal of troops at the Brussels meeting. He said all nations were facing similar issues.
(This article was written by Jun Nojima in Brussels and Hirotsugu Mochizuki in Washington.)
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