The US military has said at least 10,000 troops must remain in Afghanistan in order to continue training Afghan forces while also keeping themselves safe—but the White House is now telling Reuters that State Department and Pentagon officials are considering dropping well below that threshold, possibly leaving fewer than 5,000 soldiers in the country after the US-led mission ends this year. White House officials reportedly believe the Afghan security forces are now strong enough to contain the Taliban insurgency, while any remaining US troops focus on counterterrorism or training.
That belief was bolstered by Afghanistan's April 5 general election, which saw huge voter turnout and no high-profile attacks. But some US military officials expect the Taliban to increase attacks when US forces and other Western troops, including the British, leave the country, and think that Afghanistan's forces could grow weaker at that point. That matter is still cause for debate in Washington—debate that's ongoing as the US and Afghanistan still have not finalized a Bilateral Security Agreement authorizing the continued presence of American troops in the country beyond this year. It may not end up finalized until President Hamid Karzai's successor takes office; results of the presidential election could take weeks or even months to determine. (Read more Afghanistan stories.)