Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on
[updated Tuesday, March 6 with Gen. Mattis’s remarks to the House Armed Services Committee] CAPITOL HILL: The US should keep 13,600 troops in Afghanistan to advise and assist the Afghan forces after American combat brigades withdraw in 2014, about a quarter of the current troop level, said Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis, giving his personal recommendation — not the Administration’s final decision — after prodding from the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. Rumored figures have been significantly lower. “We have to send a message of commitment,” declared Mattis, who will soon retire. But with the Navy halving its aircraft carrier presence in the Gulf and all the services cutting corners in expectation of a continued budget crunch, it’s getting harder to project resolve.
“A perceived lack of an enduring US commitment” is the biggest danger to American interests in the Central Command region, which sprawls from Egypt to Pakistan, Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. While the drawdown in Afghanistan unnerves some allies, he said, “our budget ambiguity right now is probably the single greatest factor. I’m asked about it everywhere I go in the region.”
“Already, sequestration is having an operational impact in the CENTCOM area” with the indefinite postponement of the aircraft carrier USS Truman’s deployment to keep an eye on Iran, lamented SASC’s chairman, Carl Levin. Facing a funding shortfall from both the automatic cuts known as sequestration and the Continuing Resolution now funding the federal government I the absence of proper 2013 appropriations, Navy will keep Truman stateside, albeit ready for rapid deployment in a crisis.