President Barack Obama is considering leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, White House officials said today, emphasizing Obama’s range of options as Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrives in Washington for talks.
“I’d say that would be an option we would consider,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, told reporters on a conference call when asked if the Obama administration is considering withdrawing all troops after 2014. Obama “does not view these negotiations as having the goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan,” he said.
The possibility of a complete pullout after 2014 signaled that the administration is ready for what Doug Lute, Obama’s deputy assistant for South Asia, today called “very candid” discussions with Karzai during his visit this week. While Obama has pledged to withdraw most U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2014, Pentagon officials have talked of keeping a residual force for training and anti-terrorist operations.
The U.S. and Afghanistan are attempting to negotiate a “status of forces agreement” for after 2014, with the U.S. insisting that any troops remaining be given immunity from local prosecution. Failure to reach such an accord led to the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011.
Karzai is seeking assurances of continued aid and weaponry from the U.S. and allies as well as guarantees that they will turn over to Afghanistan all prisoners taken in the country.
The U.S. goal is to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates as well as train and equip Afghan forces, Rhodes said. “It’s not an objective in and of itself to have a certain number of troops,” he said.
Karzai was due to arrive in Washington today on a four-day visit. He’s scheduled to meet with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Jan. 10 and with Obama at the White House on Jan. 11.