WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. will need to keep troops in Afghanistan even after the combat mission ends in 2014 because al-Qaida is still present in the country and trying to strengthen its influence.
Panetta told a Pentagon news conference that the U.S. should have an "enduring presence" in Afghanistan to accomplish three missions, including targeting terrorists to prevent al-Qaida from returning in large numbers.
He would not say how many American troops he thinks will be needed to conduct that mission — nor did he mention a time period. He said the size of the counterterrorism force is now under discussion.
The other two post-2014 missions cited by Panetta are training Afghan security forces and providing support for the U.S. military contingent there.