How many US troops should stay in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends next year? For the first time, officials are now saying zero is an option. Commanders recommend keeping a force of up to 15,000 in the country, but Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, speaking to reporters ahead of Hamid Karzai's meeting with President Obama later this week, says withdrawing all troops will be considered if conditions allow, Reuters reports.
As recently as a year ago, officials were talking about leaving a 30,000-strong force to combat al-Qaeda, but now officials are considering as few as 2,500, the Washington Post reports. What's more, the troops will be pulled out faster than previously deemed prudent, officials tell the LA Times; General John Allen had asked to keep most of his 66,000 troops for this summer's fighting season, but now the consensus is that troop levels will dip significantly lower than that. The US will demand legal immunity for any troops it does wind up leaving behind, the denial of which led to the complete withdrawal from Iraq.