On Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters that the Obama administration would come to a decision within the next few weeks about the magnitude of the US "enduring presence" in Afghanistan. Panetta said that the White House was currently reviewing several recommendations for troop levels from General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. These options take into account the different roles US troops would play in Afghanistan after 2014. According to the New York Times,
The number, Mr. Panetta said, will be based on how many forces are needed for counterterrorism — that is, in commando raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden — as well as for training and providing air transport and other support to the Afghan security forces.Panetta would not comment on the troop levels being considered. However, last August, the press began reporting that the Pentagon was pushing for a 25,000 troop enduring presence. That number is still being floated. Responding to these reports last month, Marc Grossman, the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the 25,000 troops figure is "speculative" and that a number has yet to be decided upon. Grossman did not, however, deny that the Pentagon is pushing for the 25,000 troops. A 15,000 troop figure has also been floated around in the press.
It is worth noting that there were only 34,000 troops in Afghanistan when Obama took office. If 25,000 troops were kept in Afghanistan after 2014, that would mean that the net withdrawal would be a mere 9,000 troops. Furthermore, before 2008, troop levels were at roughly 25,000 or less. So leaving 25,000 troops in Afghanistan would be to merely return to 2007 troop levels. Leaving 15,000 troops would be a return to 2004-2005 troop levels.
The decision about post-2014 troop numbers will not include a timetable for the removal of US troops over the next two years, according to CNN. There are about 68,000 US troops left in Afghanistan. There is no plan currently in place for their withdrawal.
The decision about troop levels is also unlikely to include an end date for what is already the US's longest war. The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the US and Afghanistan earlier this year suggests a US troop presence until at least 2024.
No matter what decision the White House makes, plans for a post-2014 US troop presence in Afghanistan will not be finalized until the US and Afghanistan complete negotiations on a bilateral security agreement, which will cover issues such as immunity for US troops. The immunity issue was a stumbling block for the Obama administration's attempts to negotiate an enduring US troop presence in Iraq last year.
Meanwhile, tensions are heightened between US troops and the Afghan people. At least 60 US-coalition troops have been killed by Afghan security forces so far this year. US troop atrocities have also been on the rise, with Koran burnings, desecration of corpses, and a massacre of civilians all within the last year.
To date, 2,062 US troops have died in Afghanistan, 1,487 of which have perished in the four years since President Obama took office.
To learn more about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, visit our Countdown to Drawdown.