The Obama administration is reportedly considering options to leave far fewer troops in Afghanistan after this year than the top U.S. and NATO commander for Afghanistan has recommended. (Munir Uz Zaman / AFP)
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The Obama administration is reportedly considering options to leave far fewer troops in Afghanistan after this year than the top U.S. and NATO commander for Afghanistan has recommended.
The military believes a minimum of 10,000 U.S. troops must remain in Afghanistan after this year to train Afghan security forces. But the Taliban’s failure to significantly disrupt Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential elections has helped persuade some White House officials that Afghan troops and police are strong enough to keep the Taliban at bay, Reuters reported on Monday.
Officials are considering keeping a smaller U.S. presence in Afghanistan — possibly fewer than 5,000 troops — to focus on counterterrorism or training operations, according to Reuters.
Any residual U.S. force would require the Afghan government to sign a bilateral security agreement, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to do. Karzai’s term ends this year. Two frontrunners have emerged from the recent presidential elections, but neither is expected to win an outright majority, which means a runoff election is likely later this year.
When asked by Military Times to confirm the Reuters story, a National Security Council spokeswoman said President Obama has not yet decided how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan if the Afghan government signs the bilateral security agreement.
“If we have a signed BSA and a committed Afghan partner, a post-2014 mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan forces and go after the remnants of al-Qaida could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan,” Laura Lucas Magnuson said in an email on Tuesday.
“However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission. Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”
If the Afghan government does not sign the agreement by September, the risks to U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be high, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan told reporters in March.
“We went back and we did the math, and we said, all right, how much equipment do we have?” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. said at a March 13 news conference. “How many airplanes can you land every day? How many airplanes do you need to lift this equipment out? How many people do we have? And so on and so forth. And we have about 102 days worth of work to do.”