Vice President Joe Biden is pushing for the withdrawal of nearly all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, leaving a military presence far below what many military officers believe is needed.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Biden has in the past argued for a smaller force
without success. But some in the administration have come around to his view as frustration sets in with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign a security agreement allowing American forces to stay in small numbers after the NATO mission formally ends this year.
A smaller force envisioned by Biden would likely see just 2,000 to 3,000 troops in the region, compared to the 9,000 to 12,000 troops U.S. defense experts and military officials would prefer be left at the end of 2014. The levels proposed by Biden, they say, would essentially amount to a total withdrawal.
"Pulling the rug out from under Afghanistan really risks collapse," Andrew Wilder, vice president of South and Central Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace, told the Journal.
"We're in the endgame with Karzai, hopefully, and we really risk blowing it by announcing a 'zero option' based on our frustrations with negotiating with a president who should soon be gone," he said.
Citing various officials, the Journal reported that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supports the recommendations of his military leaders, including the belief that a force smaller than 9,000 would be ineffective even though he tends to be skeptical of long-term overseas deployments.
Military leaders, however, want to avoid a public falling-out with the White House similar to the one in 2009.
"The military is not pushing hard on this," one military official told the Journal. "If the decision is zero, we will be supportive. We believe in the mission, but we've got plenty of other missions as well."
Administration officials also believe it's important to maintain a unified front during further negotiations with Karzai, who apparently believes the U.S. could be bluffing when it threatens full withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"The Afghans need to understand that not signing the BSA [bilateral security agreement] makes the zero option a reality," a senior State Department official told the Journal.
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