The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

January 9, 2013

U.S. may leave no troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014

— WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration says it might leave no troops in Afghanistan after December 2014, an option that defies the Pentagon's view that thousands of troops may be needed to contain al-Qaida and to strengthen Afghan forces.

"We wouldn't rule out any option," including zero troops, Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, said Tuesday.

"The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of 'X' number of troops in Afghanistan," Rhodes said. "We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for al-Qaida in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government."

The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 as recently as 2010. The U.S. and its NATO allies agreed in November 2010 that they would withdraw all their combat troops by the end of 2014, but they have yet to decide what future missions will be necessary and how many troops they would require.

Those issues are central to talks this week as Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

At stake is the risk of Afghanistan's collapse and a return to the chaos of the 1990s that enabled the Taliban to seize power and provide a haven for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Fewer than 100 al-Qaida fighters are believed to remain in Afghanistan, although a larger number are just across the border in Pakistani sanctuaries.

Panetta has said he foresees a need for a U.S. counterterrorism force in Afghanistan beyond 2014, plus a contingent to train Afghan forces. He is believed to favor an option that would keep about 9,000 troops in the country.

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