A complete pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline is one of the options that the Obama administration is considering, the White House said in a briefing on Tuesday ahead of a meeting between leaders of the two countries later this week.
The centerpiece of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington will be meetings on Friday at the White House, where he and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama can discuss the changes in Afghanistan and how the United States can work with the country in the future.
Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said during a phone-in news conference that the U.S. would continue drawing down the number of its troops in Afghanistan through this year and next. Around 68,000 American soldiers are in Afghanistan today. The United States "will not plateau" at that number through 2014, he said, but would continue the gradual drawdown.
Depending on the situation on the ground, Rhodes said, there could conceivably be no American forces in the country in 2015.
All aspects are under discussion, he added.
The U.S. is helping train Afghan soldiers and police, and the country's forces already have assumed much of the security burden, he noted. "We want to have an Afghan partner that is capable of standing on its own with our support and denying safe haven [to terrorists] and having the ability to take the lead for its own security," Rhodes said.
The visit this week is a chance for the two Presidents to take stock of efforts in Afghanistan "and then to provide guidance going forward on a host of issues," he said.
Rhodes said Reductions of U.S. forces would continue this year, and it would be guided by the White House discussions between Obama and Karzai.
Rhodes could not say how many troops would stay in the country after combat mission ends at the end of 2014. Afghanistan and the U.S. are working on a bilateral security agreement that includes a status of forces agreement for any American troops that would be in the country. Rhodes said their missions would be counter-terrorism and training and equipping Afghan forces.
"This is not a visit where President Obama will be making decisions about U.S. troop levels in the immediate future or beyond 2014," Rhodes said. "It's a visit where the two leaders will be able to consult about those issues, and then in the coming months, President Obama will be able to make those decisions in consultation with his national security team," he told reporters.
by RTT Staff Writer
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