Military base issues limit Pentagon's options for post-war Afghanistan

President Obama's pledge to not build any permanent military outposts in Afghanistan could throw a wrench in the Pentagon's postwar plans for the country, once U.S. troops leave in 2014. 

The president's promise, made during Tuesday's nationally televised speech from Afghanistan, is an integral piece of a postwar agreement between Washington and Kabul. 

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President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai formally agreed to the plan on Tuesday, which lays the foundation for future American involvement in Afghanistan for the next decade. 

Roughly 23,000 American soldiers are scheduled to leave Afghanistan this summer. The remaining 68,000 U.S. troops are expected to completely withdraw from the country by 2014. The postwar deal signed on Tuesday will govern U.S-Afghan operations from 2014 until 2024. 

DoD or the White House has not officially disclosed details on how many American soldiers will remain in country or what their mission will be after the 2014 deadline. 


However, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Wednesday suggested a force of 5,000 to 10,000 troops could meet the needs of the burgeoning Afghan National Security Forces. 


That force will largely consist of U.S. special operations troops backed up by Afghan commando units, known as Kandaks, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) chief Gen. John Allen said in March. 

Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven is reportedly putting the final touches on a post-2014 battle plan for American special forces. 

The White House's mandate on permanent basing is, however, forcing DoD to explore other options on where that projected force can be headquartered, a congressional source with strong knowledge of special operations told The Hill on Friday. 

The biggest hurdle facing DoD is how the White House definition of permanent bases ends up being interpreted, the source said. 

While those bases will be equipped to support the counterterrorism and military advisor operations run by American troops in Afghanistan, they technically would not be the permanent brick-and-mortar bases the administration is looking to avoid, the source said. 

The Pentagon could also ink basing agreements with other countries in the region, where U.S. special forces can run counterterror operations from outside of Afghanistan, the source said. 

But that would mean having to renegotiate basing deals with countries looking to exact the maximum price from the U.S. for the right to operate inside their borders. 

Kyrgyzstan is reportedly looking to raise the rent on the Pentagon for its air base in Manas. The annual department payout for the Manas base is $60 million. 

The U.S. also has a military base in Turkmenistan that could be used to base counterterror operations in Afghanistan. 

These basing options are not intended to skirt or circumvent the White House's ban on permanent bases, according to the source. In the end, U.S. forces "have to operate by the laws [the White House and] Congress gives them," the source said. 

Another issue that could cloud the situation even further is if the Taliban becomes integrated into a future Afghan coalition government, the source noted. 

President Obama said that efforts are underway to integrate Taliban leaders into an eventual Afghan coalition government. 

If that happens, Taliban members may push for more stringent controls of U.S. positions in Afghanistan, beyond the scope of what's included in the US-Afghan postwar deal. 

But any basing strategy could become moot if Afghan security forces are not up to the task. 

Successful U.S-led counterterrorism operations in the Philippines and Africa hinge upon a competent and professional military force in the host country. 

That kind of force puts US troops in a low-risk situation and creates an acceptable level of American military presence on foreign soil, the source said. 

American and Afghan leaders claim the ANSF is on track to take on the brunt of the security mission in the country. American commanders have already handed over key missions, such as detainee operations and night raids, to the Afghans 

However, the source said the ANSF will likely never hit the threshold needed to lead a full-fledged counterterrorism campaign even with U.S. support. 

"I don't see it happening," the source said. "At what point do you get to the point of diminishing returns?"