Afghan Defence Minister says US security presence needed beyond 2014 to ensure country's stability

Washington, Apr 11 (ANI): Afghanistan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has stated that a long-term security partnership and the presence of U.S. forces beyond 2014 will be needed to ensure Afghanistan's stability and "give the right messages" to both its population and its enemies.

"The number itself is not that much important, the strategic implications will be more important than the physical number of troops," the Washington Post quoted Wardak as saying, referring to the size of the US Army force.

According to the report, US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in his meeting with Wardak and Interior Minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi at the Pentagon, assured that the United States would continue to supply military training and support, so that Afghanistan's defense forces could improve and be sustained beyond the December 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces.

The growth and training of Afghanistan's security forces is a key part of the coalition's withdrawal planning. According to reports, it is predicted that the Afghan army and national police would reach their combined target strength of 352,000 this summer, several months ahead of schedule.

Wardak said that an Afghan force level of 230,000 had been agreed upon as a "conceptual model for planning purposes" but that the number was "subject to revision" and he urged the need for "flexibility" depending on conditions on the ground.

He said that the number was "based on the assumption of a degrading threat" from the Taliban.

Mohammadi revealed that they had discussed the need for additional police equipment and training with Panetta and had "received assurances" that the gaps "will be filled, especially as we approach 2014."

The high-level US-Afghan defense meeting in Washington was the third in a series, where the Afghan ministers expressed their "appreciation and heartfelt thanks to the people of the United States" for their assistance. (ANI)