As the White House negotiates to keep military forces in Afghanistan after 2014, it's time to address what the small force being considered can actually accomplish.
On 25 February the White House issued a public statement on the status of the negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan over keeping troops in the country after 2014. In unusually stark language, the press release noted that the President had “asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.” The release was likely intended to pressure the Karzai government, or the next Afghan president to be chosen in April’s election, to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), authorizing military forces to remain in Afghanistan. Many pundits in the US argue that a failure to leave troops in Afghanistan after 2014 would be a major error. A comprehensive assessment of the situation, however, indicates that leaving troops may be worse than a complete withdrawal.
The White House release indicated that if the BSA is signed, the forces left in Afghanistan would be given “a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda.” Many reports suggest senior military and diplomatic officials believe that a force 10,000 US troops is the right size to accomplish those missions. One senior officer said the future in Afghanistan would be “grim” if no US troops remain after 2014.