Battleland

Afghan Troops Numbers: How Low Can the U.S. Go?

  • Share
  • Read Later
JIM WATSON / AFP / Getty Images

Presidents Obama and Karzai in the Oval Office in 2010; they'll meet there again on Friday.

With the ascent of the Biden-Hagel-Kerry camp’s view on U.S. troops in Afghanistan – bottom line, less is more – the size of the U.S. contingent is the top item for discussion as Afghan President Hamid Karzai prepares to meet Friday with President Obama.

The views of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State nominee John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel tilt toward a counter-terror strategy – kill the bad guys – rather than a troop-intensive counter-insurgency strategy – protect the good guys — as the U.S. winds down its combat role in Afghanistan.

The central question boils down to this: if the U.S. military and CIA can keep terrorists at bay in western Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen — with handfuls of special operations troops and drone-launched Hellfire missiles — why can’t that minimalist approach work in Afghanistan as well?

There are currently 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with all so-called combat forces slated to be out by the end of next year. The first topic of conversation at Friday’s meeting will likely be the pace of the drawdown through the end of 2014.

The second item will be just how large of a residual non-combat U.S. force should be left in Afghanistan when 2015 dawns, to train Afghan forces and kill Taliban insurgents sure to try to topple the Afghan government. As we saw in Iraq, such nomenclature can change in a flash. It’s almost as if troops now deemed “combat forces” have Post-It notes affixed to their helmets that can be replaced with labels declaring “advise-and-assist forces” overnight.

But it will be different this time around, as Obama and Karzai begin hammering out what’s being called a post-2014 Bilateral Security Agreement. “We are not going to be responsible for the security of Afghanistan beyond 2014,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Tuesday.

In fact, the U.S. says it would entertain bringing all of its troops home by then. “That would be an option that we would consider,” Rhodes said. “The President does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.”

Early suggestions that the 2015 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan could be as high as 20,000 to 30,000 have shrunken to smaller options in the 2,500-to-10,000-troop range. Plainly, the White House is fed up with the corrupt Afghan government. It also views a large troop presence as a drain on its budget, as former Army officer and ex-NSCer Doug Ollivant pointed out Monday on Battleland.

Karzai better not overplay his hand in the mistaken belief that Obama is desperate to keep U.S. boots on the ground inside his country, outside military experts caution. “Absent the stabilizing influence of some numbers of U.S. troops, Afghanistan could slip back into chaos, experiencing a new version of the devastating civil war that rent the country in the 1990s,” retired Army lieutenant general David Barno, a one-time top commander in Afghanistan, writes at Foreign Policy. “Even though the Zero Option is not the best choice to protect American long-term regional interests, it certainly remains on the table.”

10 comments
RogerFisher
RogerFisher

Deja vu all over again.  Zero option didn't work so well the last time.  How about keeping a force to control illegal drug trade?

MrObvious
MrObvious

Zero seems to be a good number.

Why should our soldiers die to preserve one tyrant over another? 

michael77angelo
michael77angelo

The perfect number is 0!  Mr. President, we must bring all our troops home by the end of 2014.  Isn't that what you said during the presidential election campaign?  Bring our young men and women home now from this godforsaken region.  Bring everyone home now Mr. President.  That is the right and only response here.

rutoft64
rutoft64

No dubt time to come home. Cost of lives and $$$$ way to much. Just as the Russian ambassador said long ago and many lives and $$$$. Get out of there you will not win. We know.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

Its the Paki nukes and missiles that are the issue.  In the end, all other policy in this region has to support keeping them out of the wrong hands.

sixtymile
sixtymile

Seriously? Yes. It's time for a realistic strategy to protect the US from building a base for exporting terrorism, but cost-effective in lives, limbs, blood, and treasure. Let them (and their Pakistani buddies) form their own destiny as long as it does not pose a threat to the rest of the world. It's not a US possession or territory, nor would we ever wish it to be. Give Afghanistan back to the Afghanis.

JoseGonzales
JoseGonzales

With all the new high tech gadgets, how many people do you need to run the largest drug operation in the world?


JamesHintze
JamesHintze like.author.displayName 1 Like

How low can the US go?   How about zero?

ClimpJones
ClimpJones

just another example of President Obama's naivete

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@ClimpJones The definition of naive is thinking that the solution to every problem is throwing U.S. soldiers at it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,104 other followers