By Jim Kouri
Members of the notorious al-Qaeda terror network are continuing to make a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan less likely as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the American press on Friday that battling the group would be a national priority well past President Barack Obama’s second-term.
Secretary Panetta said that U.S. military commanders are now analyzing the number of the troops to leave in Afghanistan after the NATO combat forces leave in 2014, technically ending the war on terrorism that’s lasted more than 12 years.
Presently there are about 66,000 American combat troops in Afghanistan, but once the 2014 date arrives the U.S. force may drop to about 10,000. Panetta noted that Obama would decide in the coming weeks as to how many troops would remain and what their mission will be once coalition troops leave that war-torn and chaotic nation.
Besides their counterterrorism mission, U.S. military personnel will be responsible for the continued training of the Afghan military which will include instructors accompanying Afghan soldiers and police officers on their missions.
In addition to combat troops, Secretary Panetta indicated that the U.S. will provide personnel with technical skills such as neutralizing IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and landmines; collecting and analyzing tactical and strategic intelligence; and providing skilled and experienced medical personnel for the treatment of the wounded.
This latest information appears to fly in the face of Obama’s claims that the threat posed by al-Qaeda has significantly declined since U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six ended the life of the terrorist group’s iconic leader Osama bin Laden.
During Panetta’s press briefing, little was mentioned about other Islamist organizations involved in combat in Afghanistan, such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
“During the run-up to the November election, Obama made it sound as if all U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan would be brought home in 2014. Obviously, that’s just another unfulfilled Obama campaign promise,” said Mike Baker, a GOP political consultant.