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Panetta, NATO partner, differ on troop numbers

By The Associated Press

This article was published February 22, 2013 at 7:54 a.m.

us-secretary-of-defense-leon-panetta-right-talks-with-his-norwegian-counterpart-anne-grete-strom-erichsen-at-the-start-of-a-two-day-nato-defense-ministers-meeting-to-discuss-syria-and-afghanistan-at-nato-headquarters-in-brussels-thursday-feb-21-2013-the-head-of-nato-urged-member-countries-thursday-to-stop-cutting-their-defense-budgets-in-response-to-tough-economic-times-saying-continued-reductions-will-compromise-the-safety-of-all-of-the-military-alliances-28-members

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, right, talks with his Norwegian counterpart Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen, at the start of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting to discuss Syria and Afghanistan, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. The head of NATO urged member countries Thursday to stop cutting their defense budgets in response to tough economic times, saying continued reductions will compromise the safety of all of the military alliance’s 28 members.

— Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his German counterpart offered conflicting accounts Friday of a discussion about how many U.S. and European forces would remain in Afghanistan after the anticipated end of combat after 2014.

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Panetta had informed him at the Brussels meeting that the United States would leave between 8,000 and 10,000 troops in the war-torn country at the end of 2014.

But Panetta, speaking to reporters shortly after de Maiziere made his comments, called the remarks inaccurate.

Panetta, who will leave President Barack Obama’s Cabinet when his successor is confirmed, told reporters that he and the NATO partners instead talked about ranges of options for the post-2014 troop force.

And, he said, the figures reflected contributions that other nations would make, in addition to the United States.

U.S. officials have yet to say publicly how many American troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014. But, Panetta said, officials are planning to leave troops in all sectors of the country — north, south, east and west — as well as in Kabul. Pentagon officials have said the military has mapped out plans to carry on its mission of training and advising the Afghan forces and also leave a small counterterrorism force to battle insurgents.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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