Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP - Getty Images
A U.S. colonel, left, shakes the hand of an Afghan national at the provincial headquarters of the Afghan National Police in Ghazni in May 2013. The United States' top diplomat on Afghanistan said Thursday that most Afghans want the U.S. to stay in their country.
The United States has promised Afghans that some American troops will stay in their country after 2014, the top U.S. diplomat on Afghanistan told Congress on Thursday.
The current plan is for U.S. combat troops to leave by the end of next year, with a smaller, mainly advisory force remaining if this is agreed with Kabul.
However, the White House said earlier this week it had not ruled out a "zero option" that would see all its forces leave by the end of next year.
James Dobbins, the State Department's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a Senate hearing Thursday that people in Afghanistan wanted U.S. soldiers to stay.
"Without an agreement on our presence in Afghanistan, we would not remain. But we do not believe that that's the likely outcome of these negotiations," Dobbins said, according to Reuters.
"Unlike Iraq, to which comparisons are often made, the Afghans actually need us to stay. Most Afghans want us to stay. And we have promised to stay,” he added.
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More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.
Dobbins said the U.S. had two main goals -- to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces and make sure that American forces can continue "to go after remnants of al Qaeda or other affiliates that might threaten our homeland," The Associated Press reported.
"That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we've had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan," he added.
Dobbins said President Barack Obama "is still reviewing a range of options from his national security team and has not made a decision about the size of a U.S. military presence after 2014."
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the committee chairman, said there was "deep-seated anxiety in the region" about what the U.S. troop presence will look like in 18 months, the AP reported.
"Afghans - who may otherwise be interested in building a fledgling democracy - want to know they will not be abandoned by the United States, as the Taliban claims," he added.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the panel's top Republican, said the lack of clarity on future troop levels was "almost embarrassing" and was undermining the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
"This administration though has tremendous difficulty making decisions," he said. "I think the administration has got to quit looking at its navel and make a decision on what the force structure is going to be in Afghanistan."
Peter Lavoy, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told the committee the U.S. "is transitioning in Afghanistan, not leaving."
The U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan last month formally handed over control of the country's security to the Afghan army and police.
The handover paved the way for the departure of coalition forces — currently numbering about 100,000 troops from 48 countries, including 66,000 Americans.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.