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Official: US will devote 1,800 troops for counterterror mission in Afghanistan

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BRUSSELS - The U.S. military said Wednesday that about 1,800 of the nearly 10,000 U.S. troops the U.S. plans to leave in Afghanistan at the end of the year would be conducting counterterror operations, providing that specific breakout for the first time.

The military said other nations may also be willing to provide counterterror forces, although no final decisions have been made.

The revelations came as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told reporters at a NATO meeting that he believes there will be no problem getting enough allied troops to reach the 12,000-force total that officials believe is needed in Afghanistan to train and assist Afghan forces beyond 2014.

"Right now, I don't have any concerns getting to 12,000," said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Of that number, the U.S. would contribute 8,000 to train and assist Afghan forces. Italy, Germany and Turkey have all committed to providing forces to secure parts of the country. Next year, the U.S. would have troops in the east and south, while the Italians will be largely in the west, the Germans in the north and the Turks in Kabul.

Asked for an assessment of the Taliban, Dunford told reporters that he believes there is friction within the insurgency.

The U.S. and NATO combat mission in Afghanistan will come to a close at the end of this year. NATO defence ministers meeting this week discussed which countries would continue to provide forces into 2015 and beyond. The U.S. has said it will leave 9,800 forces at the end of this year, cut that number about in half by the end of 2015 and have just a small force, in the hundreds, there after 2016.

At the same time, the U.S. and allies have committed to funding an Afghan force — now at about 352,000 — for several more years. Dunford said the Afghans need to sustain that level for "the next few years." There is broad acknowledgment that there are several areas of needed improvement for the Afghan forces, including the air force, logistical systems and the ability to plan for, budget and buy needed equipment.

And Dunford said he believes the ability of the Taliban to garner political support among the Afghans is waning.

U.S. military assessments have suggested that the Taliban's two main arguments are eroded. The Taliban has long accused NATO and the U.S. of being occupiers of Afghanistan and has also suggested that the allies will eventually abandon the Afghans.

But as Taliban fighters have continued to kill Afghan citizens, officials believe it will be harder for the insurgents to now gain support from the people to become part of the country's governing structure. There also is some suggestion of ongoing divisions and confusion within the Taliban.

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