US commander rules out 'zero option' in postwar Afghanistan

U.S. and NATO leaders are still negotiating with Kabul on exactly how many American and allied troops will remain in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline.  

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American troops are already in the midst of shuttering bases and curtailing combat operations in the country, allowing Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take the lead. 

ANSF commanders were handed full control of the security mission in Afghanistan last June. 

But American military planners in country have not been told to prepare for a full U.S. pullout. 

“We haven’t been told to plan for that," Milley said. 

He noted that whatever level of American military presence remains in Afghanistan, those troops would likely remain in country for several more years, despite the advances being made by Afghan military and police forces. 

“We’re only pulling out of areas where we think the Afghan security forces are capable of standing up and fighting on their own,” Milley told Stars and Stripes

But even with ANSF units fighting with little to no U.S. participation, "we are still going to provide limited [intelligence and reconnaissance] and close-air support, because those capabilities won’t be ready for several years.”

Close-air support and intelligence capabilities, along with detecting and disabling roadside bombs, have been the biggest weakness of ANSF units, Afghan and U.S. commanders in eastern Afghanistan told The Hlll in July. 

Rising tensions between the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai prompted the White House to announce it was considering a complete pullout from Afghanistan after 2014. 

The so-called zero option floated by President Obama in July was quickly derided by a number of U.S. and coalition commanders, including Gen. Joseph Dunford. 

Dunford, the head of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, said the idea of abandoning a U.S. postwar force in Afghanistan after 2014 is "unhelpful" to the current war effort, Dunford said. 

"Anyone who reinforces this idea of December 2014 as being Y2K or a cliff that the Afghan people are going to fall off is actually being unhelpful," the four-star general said in July. 

There are 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but half are expected to return home this summer.

The remaining 32,000 are set to rotate back to the U.S. after the April 2014 presidential elections, marking the end of the American war in Afghanistan.