The head of international military forces in Afghanistan says NATO is likely to wait until later this year to decide how many troops the United States and its allies should keep in the country after combat forces leave next year.
U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, speaking Tuesday in Brussels, said NATO defense ministers meeting in that city may provide guidance this week on which nations will commit to a training and advisory mission after combat forces leave.
Dunford told reporters he was not yet prepared to estimate how many troops Afghanistan will need after the combat pullout. He said those figures will be determined after NATO ministers agree on what they want to accomplish in the country after 2014.
The general called recent casualties inflicted on Afghan forces by Taliban fighters significant, but said those forces are exceeding expectations with their ability to fight insurgents.
He also said the only operations still led by U.S. and other international forces include local security patrols, route clearance and drawdown operations.
U.S. officials have said President Barack Obama could agree to leave up to 10,000 U.S. troops for training Afghan forces and maintaining counter-terrorism operations.
Brussels is the last stop for U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on a global trip he largely used to call attention to cyber-security threats, which are the focus of a special session of the weeklong NATO meeting.
Hagel also is using the Brussels visit to reassure NATO partners of Washington's ability to meet its commitments to the alliance, despite ongoing U.S. budget problems. He offered similar reassurances last week at an annual Asia-Pacific security summit in Singapore.