Ahead of meetings to negotiate a new framework for US involvement in Afghanistan between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a White House official floated the idea of withdrawing all US troops by 2015.
"That would be an option that we would consider," said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, when asked during a conference call with reporters if a zero troop level was an option, according to the Associated Press.
Publicizing this scenario might be a tactic to give the US leverage in the upcoming negotiations, The Wall Street Journal reported. (The Washington Post also agrees on this point.)
However, "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 Qaeda in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government."
Gen. John Allen recently sent Defense Secretary Leon Panetta three other scenarios that would require between 6,000 and 20,000 US troops to stay in Afghanistan, according to the Christian Science Monitor. There are currently about 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan.
Former commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told the Wall Street Journal some US troop presence in country, after US and NATO allies withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014, would have benefits.
"We certainly don't want to keep huge numbers for our purposes, or Afghan purposes," said Gen. McChrystal. "But I think a small number in selected locations does provide a visible commitment of America."
On that note, Rhodes said the White House was still committed to preventing Al Qaeda's resurgence.
"The president does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping US troops in Afghanistan," he said. "And we're guided by the shared missions that we've agreed to with the Afghans, the training and equipping of their forces, and counterterrorism."
However, as the Washington Post points out, if US troops remain in Afghanistan, the US will seek certain “authorities,” perhaps suggesting immunity would be required for US troops to stay.
“As we know from our Iraq experience, if there are no authorities granted by the sovereign state, then there’s not room for a follow-on US military mission,” Obama’s White House military adviser on Afghanistan, Doug Lute, told reporters Tuesday.
In 2011, Iraq did not agree to immunity for US troops, who otherwise might have remained in country to train Iraqi forces. Now there are no US troops in Iraq, according to the Post.