Defense officials reviewing new options for Afghan drawdown

Defense officials reviewing new options for Afghan drawdown
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U.S. and allied defense officials are reviewing five options for drawing down troops in Afghanistan, which will then be forwarded to the White House, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The review comes as those officials are increasingly wary of White House plans to reduce the U.S. presence to several hundred troops by the end of next year, according to the report.

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The top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, has sent five recommendations to the Pentagon and NATO officials in Brussels, which each carry different risk assessments.

The options include keeping the U.S. presence after 2016 at a current level of nearly 10,000; reducing to 8,000; cutting the force roughly in half; and continuing with plans to go down to several hundred troops at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Some officials favor leaving more troops to keep the Taliban at bay, while others favor a smaller presence of several thousand — both beyond the White House's current plan, according to The Journal.

The recommendations reflect growing concerns that continuing the White House's planned drawdown could raise the risk of mission failure in Afghanistan to what one senior military official told The Journal would be an “unacceptable level.”

Some fear a repeat of what happened in Iraq after the drawdown of U.S. troops in 2011 — spiraling sectarian violence and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — although administration officials say it was due to Iraqi government policies, not the withdrawal.

The NATO presence will depend on the size of the U.S. presence.

A senior NATO official told The Journal there is little doubt that allies will maintain forces similar to current numbers if the U.S. keeps enough forces to provide logistics, medical evacuation, intelligence assets and, most important, quick-reaction forces.

“There are 30 plus countries ready to contribute; the question is how big the U.S. will be,” the NATO official said. “Enablers give others confidence that if they get in a real pinch, the U.S. will be able to help them out. Will the U.S. provide the backbone around which NATO brings 30 more countries?”

The Pentagon has not yet made a formal recommendation to the White House.

Campbell is expected to testify next month on Capitol Hill, where he will be pressed on his recommendations.