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US considers total withdrawal from Afghanistan

world Updated: Jan 10, 2013 02:07 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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In the run-up to the coming Obama-Karzai meeting, the White House on Tuesday floated the idea of pulling all troops out of Afghanistan after 2014, the so-called "zero option".

"That would be an option that we would consider," US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters, when asked if pulling out all troops was an option being considered.

Rhodes was briefing reporters on the coming meeting of US president Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai. The ongoing drawdown of international troops and US presence post-2014 would be the central topic of their conversations, which will be followed by a joint declaration.

But Rhodes and Doug Lute, a White House official directly overseeing Afghanistan and Pakistan, both cautioned against any major announcements. And certainly not about numbers.

The size of US presence in Afghanistan after the drawdown - for training local forces and counter-terrorism - is the subject of much discussion, mostly speculative.

There has been no official word on it yet, but the US was once said to be considering a residual force of around 20,000. But it's now said to be down to between 3,000 and 9,000.

"But this is not a visit during which President Obama will be making decisions about US troop levels in the immediate future or beyond 2014," said Rhodes.

The two leaders will discuss these issues, of course, but no decision yet, which the White House officials said, would take place in later months.

Obama and Karzai, who share an uneasy relationship, will discuss the ongoing transition and a bilateral agreement, which will be signed only in November. Not before.

The Afghans are scheduled to take lead responsibility in security matters by the end of 2013 and assume full and complete responsibility in 2014, according to a transition plan.