While most government officials have agreed that the United States will end formal operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, what has been less clear is whether there will be any contingent of troops left after that date. Some experts have said a small group of American forces is necessary to protect against al-Qaida, but on Tuesday the Obama administration hinted it might consider leaving none at all, The Associated Press reports.
The suggestions that there should be no American troops left in Afghanistan past 2014 is at odds with top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has recommended leaving as many as 9,000 soldiers in the embattled nation. However, some White House officials don't feel quite the same way as Panetta.
"The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of 'X' number of troops in Afghanistan," Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, told the AP. "We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for al-Qaida in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government."
There are currently an estimated 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, which is down considerably from the peak number of 100,000. No dates are set in stone, but some experts estimate as many as 20,000 troops could be home by June, according to The New York Times.