President Obama is considering pulling all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014, The New York Times and CNN reported July 9. (MC2(AW) Jonathan David Chandler /Marine Corps)
A top Pentagon spokesman said it remains unclear whether any U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
“We continue to have regular dialogue with the Afghans,” Defense Department spokesman George Little said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters. “The decision, at the end of the day, is the president’s to make.”
Little’s comments came in response to questions about a report in Tuesday’s New York Times that suggested a complete withdrawal, known as the “zero option,” is gaining support among many national security officials at the White House. That is driven, in part, by a deteriorating relationship between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the report said.
Many top military leaders say keeping some U.S. troops in Afghanistan, potentially more than 10,000, is essential to preventing Taliban insurgents from taking over parts of the country and to keep al-Qaida operatives from using Afghanistan as a base of operations to plan further attacks on the U.S.
Little declined to say whether Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supports a plan to leave troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Obama has laid out plans to reduce the current force level of about 66,000 troops down to about 34,000 by February of next year. But he has made no public commitments of U.S. forces beyond December 2014, when the current U.S. and NATO combat mission is slated to end.
Obama said in January that no U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan unless the Afghan government granted them immunity from local prosecution, a standard provision in many overseas status-of-forces agreements.
Refusal to grant such immunity was a key sticking point that led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the former commander of the Afghan war who retired in April, said he recommended that 13,600 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.