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Pentagon eyes force of 10,000 – or none – in Afghanistan

  • Article by: Jackie Calmes and Eric Schmitt
  • New York Times
  • January 22, 2014 - 8:54 PM

– The Pentagon has proposed to President Obama that 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan when the international combat mission there ends after this year, or none at all, senior government officials said Tuesday.

That figure, debated in recent days within the White House, is the midpoint of a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops — most of them Americans — that has been contemplated for months as the United States and its NATO allies plan for the long mission’s end. Anything less than that, the officials said, would be too few to be able to protect the reduced number of diplomats, military and intelligence officials who remain.

“The proposal is 10,000 or basically nothing, a pullout,” said one official, who had been briefed on the plan.

Both the intelligence agencies and the State Department, which would have personnel remaining in Afghanistan after 2014, back the Defense Department’s proposal, the officials said. But it has met resistance among some officials in the National Security Council, including Vice President Joe Biden, who question why the choice has to be 10,000 troops or zero, and nothing in between.

Administration officials declined to confirm a report in the Wall Street Journal that the plan would call for quickly withdrawing the troops so that none remained by the time Obama left office in January 2017.

That would be a far more rapid departure than considered previously for residual forces; a still-pending agreement with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan would allow for an U.S. presence to 2024.

The Obama administration is eager to maintain some military presence after this year, especially given the resurgence of Islamist extremists and Al-Qaida sympathizers who have exploited the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the chaos of the civil war in Syria. But Karzai could foil any plans, as he has balked at signing a bilateral security agreement.

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