Obama-Karzai talks near: How many US troops should stay in Afghanistan?
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be in Washington next week to meet with President Obama. Top of the agenda: deciding whether US troops should stay beyond 2014 – and how many.
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai set to arrive for a meeting at the White House next week, the Obama administration is considering three options for how many troops it wants to leave in the country after NATO ends its mission in 2014.Skip to next paragraph
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President Obama and Mr. Karzai could make significant headway toward that decision as well as others, such as the pace of the US drawdown between now and 2014 and the sort of military hardware Afghanistan would like from the US. But approval of any Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, to keep US troops in the country remains contingent upon Karzai granting US forces immunity from local prosecution.
It was largely the question of immunity that derailed Mr. Obama’s plan to keep 3,000 US troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 withdrawal date.
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The size of a residual force for Afghanistan is likely to be larger – and potentially considerably larger – than the 3,000-strong force Obama envisioned for Iraq.
This week, the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, sent Defense Secretary Leon Panetta three scenarios calling for between 6,000 and 20,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan. A contingent at the lower end of the range would focus primarily on counterterrorism activity carried out by Special Forces, while a force at the top of the range would allow for continued training of Afghan security forces and some joint operations with the Afghan military.
Obama has made no decisions on the size of a residual force, but in the past White House officials have suggested the president might opt for a force of about 10,000 troops.