DOD and Petraeus: U.S. Planning Military Presence and Operations in Afghanistan Beyond 2014

By Edwin Mora | March 15, 2011 | 2:20 PM EDT

Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and Gen. David Petraeus testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Drew Angerer)

( - Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the Obama administration is planning to maintain “joint” U.S.-Afghan military bases in Afghanistan after 2014 and it plans to conduct what Flournoy described as “joint counter-terrorism operations” with the Afghan military after that date.

The revelation came in response to a question from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

“I wonder if you’ll comment on the possibility of some continuing base presence, perhaps a jointly operated system of bases, in Afghanistan between us and the Afghans?” Lieberman asked.

“When the President first announced the strategy at West Point, it was very clear that we were making an enduring long-term commitment to Afghanistan and the region, having made the mistake historically of walking away and then paid a very dear price for that so that’s been clear from the beginning,” Flournoy responded.

“It’s an important message to emphasize as we begin this transition process,” Flournoy continued.

“We just had a team in Kabul this week starting to discuss the outlines of a strategic partnership with our Afghan partners being clear about our expectations of that partnership and also the kinds of commitments we would be willing to make,” she said.

“The president's been also very clear from the beginning that we do not seek any permanent bases in Afghanistan that we don’t seek to have a presence that any other country in the region would see as a threat,” said the undersecretary. “That said, we are committed to the success of the Afghans to continuing to build their capacity and so we do envision, if the Afghans invite us to stay, the use of joint-facilities to continue training, advising, assisting the Afghan National Security Forces, conducting joint counter-terrorism operations and so forth and so we are in the process of discussing what kind of parameters should outline that partnership.

“I should also add it goes far beyond the military demand, to look at how we can support further development of governance, economic development, and so forth,” said Flournoy.

Lieberman then asked Petraeus: “General do you want to add anything to that?”

“Again, I think it’s very important to stay engaged in a region in which we have such vital interests and I think the concept of joint-basing, the concept of providing enablers for Afghan operations and so forth, frankly similar to what we have done in Iraq since the mission changed there, would also be appropriate in Afghanistan,” said Petraeus. “Again, depending on how the circumstances evolve, noting that we’ve got nearly four years to go until that time.”

Lieberman appeared to endorse the adminisration’s decision to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  “Obviously, we will always stay in Afghanistan after 2014 to the extent we’re invited to do so by the Afghan government and we determine we’re able and want to do so," said Lieberman. "But I think, general, you pointed out very correctly that we would do this not just for the Afghans, but we also have security interests in the stability of Afghanistan and in the region more generally.”

Speaking at West Point in December 2009, President Obama announced that he was committing 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan and said the increase in forces would “allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

Since then, the administration has emphasized its plan to have Afghan forces take the lead role in that nation’s security by the end of 2014.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney reasserted this point at the White House briefing yesterday when he was asked about the agenda for the meeting that took place Monday between President Obama and Gen. Petraeus. “I believe they will discuss the president's plan to begin a transition process in July of 2011, which will begin a process that will lead to turning over the security lead to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” said Carney.

During his opening remarks before the Armed Services Committee today, Gen. Petraeus said he would make “a recommendation to President Obama for commencement of the drawdown of the U.S. surge forces in July.”

In response to questions from Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D.-Mich.), Gen. Petraeus said he had not yet decided on the “level of reduction” in the U.S. troop presence that would take place beginning in July.

Petraeus told the panel that the U.S.-led coalition is on track to letting Afghan forces take the lead in securing all regions of their country by the end of 2014.

He added that on March 21, Afghan President Hamid Karzai will announce the provinces where this transition will occur this spring.

Gen. Petraeus said there would be a “reinvestment of some of the forces freed up by transition in contiguous areas or in training mission where more work is needed.”

The general warned, however, that “while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible.”

“Much difficult work lies ahead,” he said, noting the “expected Taliban spring offensive.”

“It’s important to remember that’s where 911 began,” Petraeus said of Afghanistan.