PENTAGON - U.S. Defense officials say they have not decided how many troops to maintain in Afghanistan after a general pullout in 2014, but U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the remaining presence should be substantial.
Panetta says the remaining terrorist threats from al-Qaida and others, as well as the need for continued training of Afghan forces, means the U.S. will have to keep a number of troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
Panetta spoke Thursday at a joint news conference after meeting with Israeli Defense Secretary Ehud Barak at the Pentagon.
“The fundamental mission in Afghanistan is to establish an Afghanistan that can be secure and govern itself and ensure that al-Qaida never again finds a safe haven within Afghanistan from which to conduct attacks on the United States or any other country. The goal here is an enduring presence," he said.
Panetta said allied forces have had an impact on al-Qaida, but he said intelligence reports show the group continues to appear in Afghanistan and is looking for ways to expand its capabilities there.
U.S. Defense officials say they are in the process of determining how many troops to keep in the country after 2014, and they expect to make a decision in the coming weeks.
Panetta met for about an hour with Israeli Defense Minister Barak. The two praised U.S.-Israeli cooperation in setting up the so-called Iron Dome missile defense system that Israel says protected its citizens from hundreds of rocket strikes during the recent escalation of violence in Gaza.
The United States this year contributed $70 million to that system, in addition to $205 million it already had committed. Panetta said he will work to secure more funding in the future.
The visit came after Barak recently announced his retirement from politics. He and Secretary Panetta exchanged gifts. Panetta gave Barak a distinguished service award and a framed, signed photo of the two at a recent visit to an Iron Dome battery site in Israel. Barak gave Panetta a miniature model of a missile.