US to be a major contributor to post-2016 mission: Lute
Lute was speaking at a press conference in Brussels ahead of NATO defence ministerial meeting scheduled to begin in the Belgium capital this afternoon.
The two-day meeting will be attended by defence ministers from 41 NATO member states and partners. Afghan defence minister nominee Masoom Stanikzai will also attend the meeting. Lute said they would welcome Stanikzai at the meeting.
“We’ll welcome Afghan Acting Defense Minister Stanekzai to the Resolute Support session. Again, this is Afghanistan with 40-plus NATO partners.”
The US ambassador said the new defense minister would have a chance to reflect on how was the train, advise and assist (TAA) mission working and what should be their plans for the future after six months into the mission.
To a question about any possible changes in the US pullout timeline from Afghanistan, Lute said it was a decision to be made in Washington after this fighting season.
He said presidents Ashraf Ghani and Barack Obama had agreed this year would obviously be a fighting season during which the Afghan forces would be tested. “I think that’s proving to be true.”
“They also agreed that together they would take an assessment as to progress this year and what the challenges of the future lay. I don’t have a forecast for you on how that assessment will go, but I think we can agree that this is a real challenge. This will be, has been so far, and will continue to be a challenging year for the Afghan Security Forces.”
As to the US contribution to the NATO mission beyond Resolute Support, Lute said, so far in the first 13 years of the mission, the US forces had been greater than any other allies.
“We’ve been, not only the single largest contributor but, in sum, the US forces have been greater than the sum of everybody else. I won’t forecast what our numbers will be beyond 2016, but I think it’s safe to say that we’ll still be a major contributor.”
He said they were still working closely with Afghan government colleagues to define exactly what tasks would be done. “And this always begins with the tasks, and then we add the numbers after the tasks. So we’re still in the process of figuring that out.”
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