Days before Afghan president Hamid Karzai is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama, senior administration officials said the White House will not rule out removing all troops from Afghanistan later than 2014 – when the U.S. combat mission expires.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the administration would consider a "zero option" because "the U.S. does not have an inherent objective of X number of troops in Afghanistan."
President Obama has reportedly received several proposals for residual troop levels beyond 2014, but this was the White House’s most explicit acknowledgement that it would consider leaving no U.S. troops in support roles in Afghanistan after the end of combat operations.
The White House has previously expressed a preference for a light operational footprint. Press secretary Jay Carney said on Nov. 26th that the post-2014 American presence would be “very limited in scope.”
White House South Asia advisor Doug Lute said decisions on troop levels would be determined by the atmosphere on the ground, and how well-equipped Afghans are to defend themselves.
"If the Afghan capacity continues on positive glide path and we reach our goals in terms of the development of the army, the police, then you can imagine they require less support,” he said.
The announcement comes on the heels of a scheduled meeting between President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai’s visit, which will include a bilateral meeting, working lunch and joint press conference, will not end with the pronouncement of a final troop level, although that will be among the issues the two leaders discuss, Rhodes said.
“The two leaders will be discussing any potential support for Afghanistan from the United States beyond 2014,” he said, adding that a bilateral security agreement should be finalized by November 2013.