Nato countries are considering keeping up to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the date when foreign combat forces were due to leave the war-torn country.
In what was the first official indication of how many foreign troops would remain on the ground after the handover to local forces, the Pentagon said a number of between 8,000 and 12,000 was under discussion at a Nato meeting in Brussels.
Earlier, the German Defence Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, said the US had told its allies that it alone would keep up to 12,000 troops stationed in the country. But the claim was denied by the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.
A Pentagon spokesman said the figures applied to Nato troops as a whole, not the US contingent. Nato was already planning to maintain a smaller training force to assist local troops after the withdrawal.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to announce that the US would withdraw 34,000 of the 66,000 American soldiers currently stationed in the country by early next year.
“The President is still reviewing options and has not made a decision about the size of a possible US presence after 2014, and we will continue to discuss with allies and the Afghans how we can best carry out two basic missions: targeting the remnants of al-Qa’ida and its affiliates, and training and equipping Afghan forces,” the spokesman, George Little, said after the Nato defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels.