- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan and a former top Pentagon official are floating an idea to keep a “bridging force” of U.S. troops, as well as a planned “enduring force,” after the December 2014 deadline for most international combat troops to withdraw from the country.

Retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy and Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst for the Brookings Institution, floated the idea in a new report by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank founded by Ms. Flounoy.

“[For] two to three years after 2014, the United States may need an additional force package of several thousand personnel to help the Afghans finish building their air force, their special operations forces and certain other enablers in medical realms, in counter-[improvised explosive devices] capability and in intelligence collection,” the report says.

At a Washington conference Wednesday, Ms. Flournoy said that building up Afghan forces has focused on churning out infantry units.

“There’s a lot more capability that needs to be built in terms of logistics, intelligence, counter-IED — some of the specialized capabilities,” she said. “The idea of a ‘bridging force’ is a temporary additional force that will be focused on training up those supporting elements for [Afghan security forces] — so temporary forces specifically filling capability gaps through additional training.”

The U.S. and its allies already are planning to leave behind an “enduring force” after 2014 to advise and assist Afghan forces and support counterterrorism operations. But the Obama administration has not yet said how many troops will stay after the 2014 deadline.

Retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, former U.S. Central Command chief, has recommended 13,600 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, but the White House reportedly is leaning toward a smaller force.

A so-called “bridging force” would add to that figure, and it would take on more of a training role, rather than an advising one. This would allow the administration more flexibility in its drawdown from the Afghan War, Ms. Flournoy said.

Bridging forces could vary in size and deployment length, depending on what is needed, she said. “We will see if that gains any traction as the discussion goes forward.”