Pulling out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama has threatened to do by the end of the year, "will encourage the Taliban," Gen. Jack Keane said Friday.
Such a withdrawal will "deflate the morale of the Afghan national security forces," Keane, a retired Army four-star general, told Fox News' "America's Newsroom."
President Barack Obama told the Pentagon Tuesday to prepare for a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by year's end. However, the president indicated a limited number of troops could remain, if the Afghan government signed a security agreement.
A full troop withdrawal would also help al-Qaida, currently contained in northeastern Afghanistan, Keane said. There are about 200 al-Qaida members at present, but Keane predicted that number would quickly grow without a U.S. military presence.
"If we pull out of there, the point is, then thousands will join them. And, the Taliban will willingly support them. And, we'll be back where we were with a bona fide sanctuary again in Afghanistan," Keane said.
The Central Intelligence Agency is conducting a campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan from a base in eastern Afghanistan, Keane said. If U.S. troops leave, he said that effort would be "jeopardized."
Keeping a presence in Afghanistan was in the U.S. national security interest, Keane argued. He said the United States should not negotiate on whether to stay, but should "insist on it."
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