By Adrian Croft
MONS, Belgium (Reuters) - NATO hopes to deliver a detailed operations plan for its smaller post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, including numbers of soldiers involved, by late this year, NATO's new top military commander said on Tuesday.
NATO plans to keep a slimmed-down training and advisory mission in Afghanistan after 2014, when most foreign combat troops will have left after handing over responsibilities for fighting Taliban insurgents to Afghan security forces.
The United States and other NATO allies have been slow to provide detailed numbers of troops for the post-2014 force.
U.S. officials said in February that NATO was considering keeping a residual force of 8,000 to 12,000 troops. The White House has been discussing keeping 3,000 to 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of that, and President Barack Obama has come under increasing pressure to specify the number.
U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who took over as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe in May, said NATO was at an advanced stage of working on a detailed operations plan, or "O" plan, for the post-2014 mission.
"The 'O' plan is very mature, minus a few key pieces (of) which the elephant in the room is the actual numbers and types of forces to be put into the 'O' plan," Breedlove told a group of reporters at NATO's operational headquarters in Mons, Belgium.
"We are still waiting (for) some details from some of the nations in order to absolutely finalize this but we are hoping to deliver this 'O' plan in the latter fall and I think we are within striking distance," he said.
Breedlove said he expected the plan to include detailed numbers for the forces to be provided by each contributing country.
U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, head of international forces in Afghanistan, said last month that NATO was likely to wait until after this year's "fighting season" in Afghanistan before deciding the size of the international military force that will remain behind after 2014.
The New York Times reported this month that Obama was seriously weighing a "zero option" that would end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan after 2014.
Breedlove said the zero option had been discussed "and as a military person I have to consider every option so certainly we have done some thinking about what that means."
But he appeared to indicate that a complete U.S. pullout was unlikely.
"What I have seen and heard is my Secretary of Defense (Chuck Hagel) and other ministers make a clear commitment to Afghanistan post-2014 and so that is where my work is really focused right now," he said.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)