By Carlo Muñoz - 09/26/13 09:49 PM EDT
"We're in discussions with United States on a security agreement to which a number, a limited number of United States forces and also other NATO forces would stay in Afghanistan," according to Rassoul.
While noting the ultimate decision on the final troop number "is not up to Afghanistan to decide," the rough figure being discussed is "somewhere around 10,000" he said during an interview with CNN.
"My hunch is it’s going to be below 10,000," Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said earlier this month during a breakfast in Washington.
That number should be enough to provide counterterrorism and air support for Afghan forces, while continuing the U.S. military training mission in the country, Levin said at the time.
However, Rassoul made clear that no decisions have been made and that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was still weighing options on postwar options.
"We are discussing about this, with the security agreement, training, equipping, and advising the Afghan security forces," the senior Afghan official said.
American troops are already in the midst of shuttering bases and curtailing combat operations in the country, allowing Afghan National Security Forces to take the lead.
But any suggested troop number could be irrelevant if a bilateral security agreement cannot be reached between Kabul and Washington.
The security pact, once agreed to by Kabul, will lay the groundwork for a postwar American force and grant legal immunity for U.S. troops in that force.
"We are still discussing that with the United States," Rassoul said regarding legal immunity for the expected postwar force for Afghanistan.
Lack of an immunity deal for U.S. troops was a crucial factor in the failed attempt to set up a postwar security deal in Iraq and set the stage for the recent wave of sectarian violence against Iraqi forces and civilians in the country.
But fraying relations between Washington and the Karzai government have cast serious doubt over whether a postwar deal could be reached.
The Obama administration revived the “zero option” plan to leave no U.S. troops in the country after 2014 following a contentious meeting with Karzai in July.
But top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have ruled out that zero option in recent weeks.
“We have no indication whatsoever of a withdrawal completely from Afghanistan,” Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the No. 2 commander of all U.S. and coalition forces in country, told reporters at the Pentagon in August.