Former Pentagon official warns Obama against Afghan pullout

The Pentagon's former policy chief for special operations is warning the Obama administration that pulling out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year would be a "major error."

Doing so would "jeopardize the one great success from our military and intelligence efforts in Afghanistan and eastern Pakistan: preventing Al Qaeda from attacking our homeland," wrote Michael Sheehan in an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Sunday.


The piece comes as the Obama administration is deliberating how many U.S. troops to leave in the country after 2014 to advise Afghan forces and conduct a counterterrorism mission there.

News reports have said the administration is considering leaving fewer than 5,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, while military officials have recommended leaving as many as 15,000 U.S. troops there and a minimum of 10,000.

Sheehan, who served as assistant Defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict between 2011 and 2013, implied that the White House pressured Pentagon and CIA officials to agree to a lower number of troops.

"Pentagon and CIA officials have reluctantly agreed with White House staff that they can accomplish this mission with a force of some 10,000 U.S. troops post 2014," he wrote in a candid comment on internal interagency deliberations.

"They will be assigned primarily at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, but also at other installations to support our counter terrorism mission on both sides of the border area. In addition, the force would include Special Forces advisors to continue to train, advice and assist the Afghan Army," he wrote.

Sheehan said this presence was necessary to prevent a future re-emergence of al Qaeda's core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that the U.S. pressure on al Qaeda in the region the last decade has prevented attacks on the homeland.

"Al Qaeda still seeks weapons of mass destruction. If acquired, they will immediately deploy them to try and mass murder American civilians. This underscores the overriding importance of supporting a continuing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past 2014 — one that will guarantee our ability to crush Al Qaeda central," wrote Sheehan, a career special forces officer and current distinguished chair of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

"Until then, we must not allow unwarranted pessimism to drive an unwise decision to withdraw entirely at the end of this year. We have been very successful so far, and we can remain successful with a modest military force in Afghanistan for a few more years, or until the Al Qaeda movement lands in its inevitable place; the ash heap of history," he wrote.