When asked by Sen. John McCain about future withdrawals Gen. John Allen replied:“My opinion is that we will need significant combat power through the end of 2013. . . . Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number.., “but I owe the president some analysis on that.”
However Allen stressed that no decision had been made and that he would make recommendations to the White House only after the departure this September of the 23,000 surge troops sent in 2010.
Allen said he was confident that his opinons would be considered by the White House. Obama seemed to be signaling subtly that he may be changing his own views on withdrawal. He said he did ot want a "steep cliff" at the end of 2014 when all NATO combat troops are scheduled to be withdrawn as set out in an agreement with the Afghan government.
Behind the scense and without much commentary from the press negotiations are going on between the U.S. and Afghanistan on a long term U.S. presence in the country after 2014.. One of the sticking points is night raids that Karzai has long opposed. That this issue even comes up shows that the U.S. would still be in Afghanistan in a combat role.
Even though polls show the U.S. public is weary of the Afghan war and a majority want a withdrawal, the reality is that the U.S. intends to stay actively involved indefinitely .
The coalition hopes to have 352,000 Afghan army and police in place by the end of this year. Although some reports put the cost at 4 to 5 billion a year a defense spokesperson said it would be more than that. The total annual revenue of the Afghan government is about 2 billion. Wonder who will cover the extra costs? For more see this article.