US force in Afghanistan might drop below 10K

 

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan might fall significantly below the 10,000 minimum prerequisite laid out by the U.S. military leaders to train Afghan forces, Obama administration officials told Reuters.

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In the wake of Afghanistan’s largely peaceful general election in April, five officials from the White House, State Department and the Pentagon have renewed the debate on how large a military footprint should be left in the country after the present U.S.-led coalition ends its mission there in December.

"The discussion is very much alive," a U.S. official told Reuters. "They're looking for additional options under 10,000 [troops]."

Last month, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told senators he had recommended that the U.S. keep around 8,000-12,000 international troops in country to carry out a counterterrorism mission and advise Afghan troops.

The decision to possibly draw down to a force of even less than 5,000 troops is also driven by renewed confidence by Washington officials that Afghan security forces would be able to defeat a Taliban-led insurgency, Reuters said.

The remaining U.S. force could focus almost exclusively on counterterrorism, such as tracking militants allied with the al Qaeda insurgency along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and training operations.

There are roughly 33,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2011.