A growing number of military leaders and intelligence officials believe President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw all combat and counterterrorism forces from Afghanistan by 2016 is now misguided, given the rise of ISIS and the escalating crises in Iraq, Syria, and Northern Africa.
"The CIA assessment [earlier this year] was that whatever risk there may be in the president’s plan can be managed," one U.S. official who was briefed on the assessment told The Daily Beast.
"The issue is whether ... we can manage the risk that the assessment is wrong and that al-Qaida could regenerate its senior leadership," the official said, adding, "al-Qaida in Iraq was a destroyed organization when we left there and look where ISIS is now."
Obama had announced in May that the United States would reduce its overall troop presence
in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of 2014; 5,500 by the end of 2015; and leave a small embassy presence by the end of 2016 with an office of security cooperation.
A senior military official told the Beast that U.S. special operations commanders would like to maintain a residual force to monitor al-Qaida and maintain relationships with the Afghan military, though there is debate within the military and the CIA as to how large that force should be.
At the same time, concerns are rising that special operations troops and intelligence officers need to be redeployed to other regions with more immediate threats.
Col. Edward Thomas, a spokesman for the Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Daily Beast that no final decisions about a post-2016 counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan have been made.
Thomas said the "intent has been retaining counterterrorism options [in Afghanistan] as we rebalance in the region," the Daily Beast reported.
Meanwhile, the rise of ISIS has challenged the old al-Qaida leadership in prestige, personnel, and funding, triggering an internal debate among both U.S. intelligence and special operations chiefs about how many resources should be concentrated on Afghan groups that are waning in influence, according to the Daily Beast.
Nevertheless, there are concerns that total withdrawal from Afghanistan is expected to be seen as a victory for jihadists who intend to take back the region, the Daily Beast reported.
But White House spokeswoman, Laura Lucas, told the Daily Beast that under Obama's current plans, the United States will be able to provide advice to Afghan counterterrorism elements using the small force in the embassy.
She said the Obama administration has a plan on "maintaining an ability to maintain pressure on al-Qaida and, in cooperation with our Afghan partners, to deny the use of Afghanistan's territory from ever again being used to launch a catastrophic attack on our people and our homeland."
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