- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East region is recommending that the Obama administration leave 13,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when most international combat forces are slated to leave the country.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, also recommended that 7,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014. He revealed his recommendations Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta last month said NATO is considering leaving between 8,000 and 12,000 international troops to train and advise Afghan security forces, and an additional few thousand to conduct counterterrorism missions.

It was not clear whether Gen. Mattis‘ recommendations would include forces for both missions.

In his opening remarks, the four-star general said the perceived lack of U.S. commitment to the Middle East and South Asia presents “perhaps the greatest risk to U.S. interests in the region.”

“This impression, if not actively and often countered … could reduce our partners’ commitment to stand with us and leave space for other actors to assume less benign leadership roles,” Gen. Mattis told the Senate panel.