The United States plans to keep a residual force of 9,800 in Afghanistan after the conclusion of its combat mission there at the end of 2014, as previously announced.
By the end of 2015, that force will be down by half and by the end of 2016, the United States will draw down to a “normal embassy presence”, as in Iraq.
This residual force will be tasked only to aid and train Afghan forces and take part in anti-terrorism operations to prevent al Qaeda from regaining lost ground.
These steps, which President Barack Obama is to announce later on Tuesday, will, of course, hinge on Afghanistan signing a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US.
“Assuming a BSA is signed, at the beginning of 2015, we will have 9,800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners,” said the White House in a statement.
President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the BSA despite the approval of a Loya Jirga (congregation of elders) demanding US intervention to get the Taliban to agree to a peace deal.
With the United States unable to deliver, relations between Karzai and his American interlocutors, including President Obama, have been frosty, bordering on hostility.
But, the United States is hopeful of clinching a BSA with Karzai’s successor, likely to be one of two candidates now in a presidential run-off, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani.
“Both Afghan presidential candidates (Abdullah and Ghani) recently reiterated their intentions to sign the agreement quickly if elected,” said the White House.
Frustrated by Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA, the White House had indicated earlier, it was even weighing a zero-presence option — leave behind nothing thing but only its embassy.