January 3rd, 2013
03:42 PM ET

U.S. likely to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan after NATO forces leave

By Mike Mount

The United States could keep between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after the official 2014 NATO withdrawal, say officials familiar with plans submitted to the Pentagon by the current U.S. commander in that country, Gen. John Allen.

Allen was tasked with developing an overarching plan for how U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan over the next two years, as well as solidifying a post-international combat troop presence. Now he has offered three distinctive options for the president, according to senior defense officials.

The officials said Allen's plans - created with input from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's office, the Joint Staff, the U.S. Central Command, and the White House - would give President Barack Obama options based on what he is looking to do in Afghanistan.

The plans are awaiting official approval from Panetta, the officials said.

According to the officials:

The low-end option calls for 6,000 to 6,500 troops that would be strictly for counterterrorism operations: hunting down Taliban and al Qaeda members and cells still operating around the country. This would require mostly Special Operations Forces, with a limited number of support troops and only a very small amount of training assistance for Afghan forces.

The mid-range option, involving around 10,000 troops, would still have the main focus on counterterrorism operations, but it would have a bigger training footprint for Afghan forces, with most of the focus on Special Operations troops and a limited amount of conventional troop training.

The 15,000-troop option would bring in a greater number of conventional troops for training Afghan Security Forces, as well as a bigger support element in addition to the counterterrorism forces.

The defense officials said planning for the post-2014 troop presence is still not complete, but it is very close. They said they expect next week's visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to involve conversations discussing these options. Officials said Karzai and Panetta are expected to meet at some point.

Last spring, NATO and the Afghan government agreed on a plan for the United States and international forces to end the NATO mission in Afghanistan and hand over full security responsibility of the country to the Afghan government. At the end of last September - as the final troops added during the "surge" that Obama ordered in December 2009 left Afghanistan - the president ordered Allen to assess the situation in the country and develop an exit strategy.

Defense officials said that Allen had to develop a post-2014 security plan before he could determine how fast troops could be withdrawn over the next two years, to ensure stability throughout the exit.

There are currently 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The capability of Afghan security forces has long been in question, with slow improvement in the military, and the Afghan police force lagging far behind. A December 2012 assessment of the security forces, which looked at a snapshot from between the spring and summer, showed that only one of the Afghan Army's 23 brigades was able to operate on its own, without U.S. military air or ground troop support.

Military analysts who closely watch Afghan operations say that while Allen has not yet made a recommendation for the pace of the force withdrawal, he is expected to suggest pulling troops out at a slower rate than the president would want.

One senior Defense official told CNN the United States is expecting the Afghan government to allow legal protections for U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends in 2014.

The refusal by the Iraq government to extend legal protections for U.S. troops after the end of the war in Iraq was a major reason the United States left the country with no residual military training force.

The Afghan plans come as Allen prepares to leave Afghanistan in early February in a regular command rotation. Taking over for him will be Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Allen was nominated to take over as head of the U.S. European Command, becoming the top military commander for NATO forces. In that role, he was expected to be a key adviser on Afghanistan through its NATO allies. But his nomination is on hold while he is being investigated for alleged improper e-mail communications with a Tampa, Florida socialite, Jill Kelley.

soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. krm1007 © ™

    Save some troops for Indian Occupied Kashmir's ongoing genocide.

    January 5, 2013 at 5:49 am | Reply
    • George Washington

      We're broke and Obama, as ordered by the zionists, want to keep our troops in a country that no longer wants them there. Obama will do as he is told to do – all of this is in preparation for the coming war with Iran. This madness is brought to you by the evil zionists devil worshipers in israel.

      Wake up America – we need to kick the evil zionists to the curb!

      January 6, 2013 at 7:33 am | Reply
  2. Ty

    We've seen, time and again, that the ANA is unreliable at best. During the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War, the Afghan National Army neglected assisting the present Soviet forces, and during operations in which they did show, they most often deserted. Today you can still see that the ANA rarely fights, despite American attempts to train them. It is quite obvious that after U.S. exfil, Afghanistan will slip into a civil war, similar to what happened in the Tajik SSR after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its republics. That being said, more American imperialism isn't what the world (or Americans like myself) need. Meanwhile, let's take that 8 billion annual military budget, cut it in quarters, and spend the majority on helping those at home and fixing the things that G.W. Bush and Congress have screwed up.

    January 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Agree! No amount of US dollars, no amount of US training will prevent Afghanistan from returning to Taliban rule!
      Pakistan harbors and supports theTaliban just waiting for us to get out. Our puppet president, Karsai, does nothing for his own people. His personal wealth has grown from all the US aid dollars he puts in his own pocket instead of teaching his own people how to grow crops other than opium poppies! Karsai's relatives are big opium exporters protected by Karsai's military and police forces!

      January 5, 2013 at 10:22 am | Reply
  3. NNN

    The really slow pace of Afghan security force development means they are sabotaging the process. The only real commitment they have there is siphoning off US funding for personal enrichment, so of course they want to keep that gravy train rolling for as long as possible.

    January 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  4. Homer

    Gotta keep the MIC funded!

    January 4, 2013 at 9:27 am | Reply
  5. U.S.M.C. 1371

    Wow did any of you actually understand a word of what you're reading? They are U.S. troops under nato command not U.S. command. If you don't agree then at least blame/complain about the correct authority that is conducting the operations.

    January 4, 2013 at 7:10 am | Reply
    • Joe

      You mean, like, US occupying other countries is all Nato's fault now ?

      January 4, 2013 at 7:19 am | Reply
      • U.S.M.C. 1371

        It is if they are under Nato command.

        January 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  6. m naseem


    January 4, 2013 at 2:41 am | Reply
    • Stanley

      No, this is not true. It is not Americans, it is "Koreans" under the USA flag. Not saying that the USA is innocent for this politics, but the USA cannot stop losing, until they STOP all cooperation with South Korea, incl. no trade, no imports of Korean goods, no "Koreans" in US politics.

      January 4, 2013 at 5:38 am | Reply
    • saoirse72

      Mr Nazeem. That is an interesting indictment of the US. So lets turn this around shall we. Muslims rape and then stone the woman. Muslims kill other Muslims. Muslims kill infidels,jews gays, and etc. So when a kid in America goes on a shooting spree in the US people are sad, light candles, and pray for peace. When a woman is raped we are appalled and again we pray too God hoping it won't happen again. Muslim woman gets raped and the man blames her for tempting him, she gets stoned, and Muslims pray that the man will heal and the woman will stay in hell. Muslims go out in the streets a blow themselves up killing whatever is near them. Their families say it was the WILL OF ALLAH and hope that it will bring peace. I am confused which ideology is better? Mind you there are some really cool Muslims out there and I they are my good friends but I am confused at your statement that people in the US only think about killing.

      January 4, 2013 at 5:52 am | Reply
  7. massoud

    Can we retire our badge of being the policemen of the world and let Germany or France or England police the world ?

    January 4, 2013 at 1:12 am | Reply
    • Frode

      Been there done that, you really want European colonialism back? The World Wars? Or were you being Ironic?

      January 4, 2013 at 7:24 am | Reply
      • Enjoy Your Police State, Clovers

        And how would that be any worse than American imperialism?

        January 5, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  8. nhkali

    Frankly, the US did in Afghanistan what many countries in the past were unable to do. The Russians beat a hasty retreat and did not have the plans the US has. The MIC got what it wanted and maybe more but the loss of human lives caused by US forces and the Taliban was uncalled for and unnecessary. The US limited its troops numbers and went in only when the need arose and got control of the government in good measure. After twelve years it is withdrawing non-essential troops and is hoping to maintain a counter terrorism force to maintain a presence. This is something the Taliban will not like.
    However, who cares what the Taliban think. The Afghans are fed up of their strategic location and want to look to the other side of life. The Americans want to control costs and loss of lives and get on with business as usual. The Afghan nation has been physically destroyed by thirty years of war and carpet-bagging nations are looking to pick up the spoils in development contracts. What a world philosophy. Salams for 2013

    January 4, 2013 at 1:07 am | Reply
    • Awabnavi

      And what EXACTLY was it that "the US did in Afghanistan what many countries in the past were unable to do", besides the murder of thousands upon thousands of Afghans and the creation of a strife which is still continuing? Do you consider this a great success?

      January 4, 2013 at 7:23 am | Reply
  9. Stan Soldier

    Billions poured into this country, bases developed for the long haul, this is a permanent duty station for all US soldiers. Europe is functioning far better than America to have any ties to them militarily. The focus is on nuclear armed Pakistan, and soon to be nuclear armed Iran and to be in the middle of them for quick military response is a must. FREE DOMination!

    January 4, 2013 at 12:53 am | Reply
  10. Andy in Oz

    It was pretty much inevitable that an announcement like this would be made. It was a conflict that could never and can never really be won. Not in the way that winning has been thought of.

    January 3, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  11. wesley snipes

    For you COWARDS that have never and will never fight for your country (refering to the posts above mine). Do you not remeber that Al Queda forces harboured in Afghanistan is who ATTACKED AND KILLED AMERICANS! how easily people forget the reason we are over there. tell me one time that the US has been attacked since 9/11!? hmmm? why do you think that is? so, stay quietly in your beds at night sipping your starbucks coffee while real PATRIOTS fight for the freedoms you so enjoy without sacrifice. Before you write one more post that states "lets get out of there" remember why we soldiers are over here fighting you F-ing cowards!

    January 3, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      If I were the actor wesley snipes, my blood would be boiling over by reading this obnoxious post with my name on it! If you like that obnoxious war so well, please say so under your own name. Besides, what makes you think that we even have a right to be there in the first place? Did you also believe that the Russians also had a right to be there back in the 1980's? The bottom line here is that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans and nobody else!!!

      January 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Reply
    • brown

      We are not cowards, not everyone can or should serve. If your in Afghanistan, you should pause for a moment
      and ponder your station in life. The folks who created the conditions for Al Qaeda to prosper live mostly in the
      United States. Their sons & daughters are bringing home six figure salaries while you are eating your MRE's,
      dodging the occassional bullet and walking your a_zz raw. You are a tool. The power elite use you when needed and
      then discard you like a piece of rubbish. You can spew your patriotic drivel if it makes you feel better, but let's be real,
      you are in Afghanistan and I'm about to get my knob polished by a smokin' hot round eye. Any questions?

      January 4, 2013 at 12:26 am | Reply
    • Catherine White Photography

      You keep telling yourself that.

      January 4, 2013 at 12:50 am | Reply
    • m naseem


      January 4, 2013 at 2:07 am | Reply
      • Haji Man

        You are seriously retarded. For the others well you should come visit Afghanistan and see how much change is going on. Slowly but surely!

        January 4, 2013 at 6:19 am |
    • Awabnavi

      "tell me one time that the US has been attacked since 9/11!? hmmm? why do you think that is?" - WHY? Because that EXTREMELY SOPHISTICATED attack was not by the Taliban or Bin Laden. It was CERTAINLY carried out by some other party who wanted war with Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. If it was Al Qaeda or the Taliban which did that BIG ATTACK could they not carry out dozens of minor attacks like car bombs, etc. Put this in your head and digest it properly.

      January 4, 2013 at 7:41 am | Reply
    • Enjoy Your Police State, Clovers

      Self-anointed "patriots"are anything but.

      January 5, 2013 at 10:22 am | Reply
  12. russo

    Is anyone actually surprised by this? I mean, didn't congress get elected on an anti-war ticket a few years ago, promising to end this in 2010 sorry 2011 sorry 2012 sorry 2014...

    January 3, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  13. kerry

    Sounds like a suicide mission.

    January 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  14. hashaam ud din

    If 66000 US troops couldn't do any good, then what you expect of say" 1500"? Americans shall not waste their 'Time', 'Money', 'Resources', 'Men', and 'self Respect – if any' in Afghanistan or any other country and concentrate on their very serious problems of their own.

    January 3, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • hashaam ud din

      Americans have lost "RESPECT' from world nations in their conflicts around the globe.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Reply
      • Catherine White Photography

        Indeed, it's not just America's credit rating that's suffering a downgrade. The US reputation on the heels of this fiscal cliff debacle couldn't get any lower. It was refreshing to hear our Australian Treasurer criticise the hobbled fiscal cliff deal. I've never been satisfied with our alliance, but accepted it as part of the status quo. Now now my 'friends'.

        Bring your troops home from these US led wars and you'll have money to pay of the debt wracked up by these senseless wars.

        January 4, 2013 at 12:55 am |
  15. Sinbad

    The troops are to protect the proposed TAPI pipeline that the US is funding.

    January 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  16. Mark

    US troops have stayed long enough in a no win war in Afghanistan. Pull all forces out of there.

    January 3, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Agree! Just like our "no win" war in Vietnam. As soon as we got out (completely), the country magically became peaceful and prosperous. There is no way to kill people into freedom, peace and prosperity! Our ideas of forcing "democracy" just doesn't work. Never has, never will! Why leave one American in a country that paints a target on his back? Karsai does very little for his country. He enjoys taking American aid to enrich his personal life and ensure his opium dealing relatives are safe and making money!
      Pakistan supports the Taliban and provides safe haven while also taking American dollars to be our "supposed" ally! This creates a "never win" situation! Both Afghanistan and Pakistan will eventually be ruled by the Taliban. If it takes a hundred years, doesn't matter. Neither of these countries will ever be what we are trying to make them.
      Just like Vietnam, get out and get out 100%. No troops, no aid dollars. All our investment is a waste. Better to spend this money at home where it will actually do much good!

      January 3, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
  17. George Patton

    No surprise here. The right-wing thugs in Washington will do all that they can to continue this obscene occupation going on indefinately!!!

    January 3, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Reply

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