US considers ‘zero option’ in Afghanistan as Obama and Karzai meet

Mr Obama has been presented with a ‘Goldilocks’ menu of three plans with different troop levels

Allauddin Khan/AP

  • US soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, 28 November, 2012
    Mr Obama has been presented with a ‘Goldilocks’ menu of three plans with different troop levels Allauddin Khan/AP

Alexandra Frean Washington
Source: TheTimes.UK
Last updated at 12:01AM, January 9 ,2013

The United States could adopt a “zero option” in Afghanistan, leaving no troops behind in the country after 2014 when the US combat mission there is due to end, the White House said yesterday.

President Obama is due to meet President Karzai of Afghanistan at the White House on Friday to discuss the size of the residual force that the US will leave behind after the withdrawal of its 66,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.

General John Allen, the American commander in Afghanistan, has presented Mr Obama with a so-called Goldilocks menu of three plans with different troop levels: 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000, each carrying a different level of risk. But reports at the weekend suggested that the Obama Administration is considering keeping a force of just 3,000 to 9,000 troops there.

At a press briefing to preview President Karzai’s meeting with Mr Obama, Ben Rhodes, the US Deputy National Security Adviser, said the Administration did not rule out the possibility that all US troops will be withdrawn.

“That would be an option that we would consider,” he told reporters when asked whether the Administration was weighing a “zero option”.

He added that the White House would not aim for a particular number of troops, but would instead examine how best it could achieve the President’s objectives of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda and equipping Afghan security forces.

The White House added that discussions on the bilateral security agreement between the US and Afghanistan, which began in October last year and which aim to establish a framework of the security relationship between the two countries after 2014, were unlikely to be completed before November this year.

The Nato combat mission in Afghanistan led by the US is to end on December 31, 2014, when the Afghan Army and the police are due to take on full responsibility for national security. But no final decision has been taken on the size of the residual American force that would remain after 2014 to ensure stability.

A recent Pentagon report suggests that only one of the Afghan Army’s 23 brigades was able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States or its Nato partners as of last September.

The number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is not the only item that the two Presidents will discuss. The White House needs to decide how quickly to withdraw its 66,000-strong military force in Afghanistan, while President Karzai is keen to discuss the level of military hardware he can expect from the US.

Also under discussion will be whether any US troops that do remain will be immune from Afghan laws and the peace process between the Mr Karzai’s government and the Taleban.

Last week the Afghan Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rassoul, suggested that Mr Karzai had high expectations of the talks, which he said would define the two nations’ relations after the US-led coalition leaves.

“This is one of the most important visits of the President to the United States of America,” he said.

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