BRUSSELS -- NATO says no decision has been made so far on the future size of the domestic and foreign forces in Afghanistan after the alliance's withdrawal in 2014.
Speaking at the end of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghan forces kept growing in numbers and quality, but the final size was an issue to be solved at some point in the future.
"Let me stress two points: Firstly, no concrete decision has been made as regards the future size of the Afghan security forces, and secondly, there have been no new requests as regards funding," he said.
"This is an issue that will be solved down the road. "
Rasmussen spoke in response to media reports on February 21 that quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that NATO wanted Afghan forces at a peak level of 352,000 until 2018 -- a move that could cost NATO billions more.
The secretary-general reiterated that NATO's training mission after 2014 will be much smaller, without giving numbers.
"Today we have reinforced our commitment on the way forward for our new mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces after 2014," he said. "This will be a different mission from ISAF and will be significantly smaller in size."
Up To 12,000 Foreign Troops
The United States says the alliance has been discussing keeping a NATO force of 8,000-12,000 in Afghanistan, in a first indication of the possible size of the international presence in the country after 2014.
Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters in Brussels, "A range of 8,000-12,000 troops was discussed as the possible size of the overall NATO mission, not the U.S. contribution."
Little was responding to a statement attributed to German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere that the U.S. contribution alone would amount to up to 12,000 troops.
Little added that U.S. President Barack Obama had not decided how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the force would be a combined NATO contingent, and would not consist of U.S. troops only.
Panetta told reporters that the post-2014 international force will have a presence across the country.
"Today we asked NATO to begin planning for a range of options on the post-2014 posture that would provide for a effective regional presence not only in Kabul but at fixed sites in the north, the south, the east, and the west," Panetta said.
Panetta also detailed the U.S. troop withdrawal program.
He said the current contingent of just over 60,000 troops will be largely maintained during the upcoming Afghan fighting season and then reduced to about 50,000 by November, and 32,000 by February 2014.
Obama last month announced that 34,000 soldiers would be brought home within 12 months.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP