Zero U.S. Troops In Afghanistan After 2014 A Possibility

The idea of completely pulling out of Afghanistan after 2014 is very compelling.

US Afghanistan

As the Afghanistan draw-down continues, the White House is not ruling out the possibility that there will be no U.S. troops left in Afghanistan after 2014:


The Obama administration does not rule out a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 2014, the White House said on Tuesday, just days before President Barack Obama is due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The comments by U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes were the clearest signal yet that, despite initial recommendations by the top military commander in Afghanistan to keep as many as 15,000 troops in the country, Obama could opt to remove everyone, as happened in Iraq in 2011.

Asked about consideration of a so-called zero-option once the NATO combat mission ends at the end of 2014, Rhodes said: “That would be an option that we would consider.”

Rhodes made clear that a decision on post-2014 troop levels is not expected for months and will be made based on two U.S. security objectives in Afghanistan – denying a safe haven to al Qaeda and ensuring Afghan forces are trained and equipped so that they, and not foreign forces, can secure the nation.

“There are, of course, many different ways of accomplishing those objectives, some of which might involve U.S. troops, some of which might not,” Rhodes said, briefing reporters to preview Karzai’s visit.

Much of this, of course, could be laying the groundwork for Karzai’s visit and the negotiations that will take place regarding the future U.S. role in his nation. Faced with the possibility that the U.S. may leave his country entirely in little more than a year, Karzai may be more willing to be more cooperative in other matters. If he’s not, and there’s a possibility that he won’t be, then we’ll end up with the same situation that we were in with Iraq in 2011 and we’ll have to leave.

In the end, though, I’m not sure what would be so bad about that. It’s been years since we’ve had anything resembling a coherent mission in Afghanistan. It started out as a counter-terrorism operation in response to the September 11th attacks and, in that regard, it was wildly successful. Even though we didn’t finally get Osama bin Laden until 2011 and the whereabouts of those who have taken over from him remain elusive to us, the infrastructure of al Qaeda was dealt a near fatal blow by our initial effort in the country and it’s ability to conduct acts of terrorism overseas has been reduced significantly. Counter-terrorism, though, hasn’t been the chief goal of our policy in Afghanistan for years, though. Since late in the Bush Administration, we’ve been engaged in a strategy designed more to prop up the government in Kabul while fighting a stubbornly resistant Taliban insurgency. Partly in response to that, President Obama followed the advice of those advocating for an Afghan version of the Iraqi surge, a strategy that has largely been a failure. The result has been more than two years in which more and more Americans have died in support of a dubious and questionable cause. If we end up bringing them all home by the end of 2014, that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.

As it turns out, the White House has been talking for some time about leaving behind some kind of residual force, at least for the purpose of trying to train the seemingly untrainable Afghan military and police forces:

U.S. officials have said privately that the White House had asked for options to be developed for keeping between 3,000 and 9,000 troops in the country, a lower range than was put forward initially by General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Allen suggested keeping between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal, a former U.S. commander of the Afghan mission who resigned in 2010, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday there was a value to having an overt U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 – even if it wasn’t large.

“The art, I would say, would be having the smallest number so that you give the impression that you are always there to help, but you’re never there either as an unwelcome presence or an occupier – or any of the negatives that people might draw,” he said, without commenting on any specific numbers.

The United States now has about 66,000 troops in Afghanistan and Rhodes confirmed there would be steady reductions in troop levels through 2014.

Frankly, if there is a residual force left behind it’s likely to be somewhere on the lower end of the estimates noted above. Politically, the American people are pretty much sick and tired of a war that lost any practical purpose years ago and, fiscally, we simply cannot afford this commitment for much longer. Add in to that the fact that any continued presence in Afghanistan requires us to continue to make corrupt deals with corrupt and untrustworthy rulers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the “zero option” idea is sounding better and better every day.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    We should already be long-gone.
    This is one of my biggest issues with the Obama Administration.

  2. cd6 says:

    Ok looks, its Obama and the Dhimmocrats – cutting and running from a fight, surrendering to the terrorists

    Brave, courageous warriors like George Bush and Mitt Romney and Bill Krystol had the guts to lead America to victory over all the terrorists, but instead all your ACORN Obama-phone MOOCHES voted in the coward party. And now, literally, the terrorists have won

    I weep for our country

  3. anjin-san says:

    Time to go…

  4. walt moffett says:

    Wonder how many American/Saudi/whoknows paid hmm, defensively armed development workers will be left behind along with assorted DEA/CIA/alphabet soup types.

  5. cd6 says:

    Obama pulling out is even more evidence that he is NOT pro-life and reject’s God’s teachings regarding procreation. I weep for America.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @cd6: OK, I give up. Are you the OTB commentors equivalent of The Onion or are you really that stupid?

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Unfortunately al Qaeda reads newspapers too. Usually it’s not wise to announce to your enemies in advance what you’ll be doing and when you’ll be doing it. Duh.

    In any case, elections have consequences and if Team Obama wants to stage a large photo op for themselves then certainly that’s their prerogative. And of course for Obama’s loopy base it’s a case of see no evil, know no evil. Leftists are immune from reality, unless it literally hits home, and so if post-withdrawal Afghanistan devolves into al Qaeda’s Shangri La, Part Deux, liberals won’t know the difference nor will they care one iota. Their biggest concern will be whether to order Grey Goose or Ketel One at the dinner party at Chez Panisse. But out in the real world a pre-announced total withdrawal might have very deadly and very dire consequences, especially over the long haul.

  8. greg says:

    you sir, are an idiot!

  9. Let's Be Free says:

    @walt moffett:

    armed development workers will be left behind along with assorted DEA/CIA/alphabet soup types

    You got it. It’s amazing how many people think the US has actually left Iraq.

  10. Neil Hudelson says:


    You are kind of hit or miss, but this one, well…

    Obama pulling out is even more evidence that he is NOT pro-life


  11. Brett says:

    I think the “no troops” situation is the most likely one once we start to withdraw. Look at what happened with Iraq – there was initially talk of leaving behind a security force, but then it just shrank and shrank as the withdrawal continued until they just pulled everyone.

  12. agorabum says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: This is a democracy. Of course we’re going to talk about if we are staying, going, how long, how much we’re going to spend, etc.
    Do you think we could just disappear one night with all our troops gone?
    In WWII, Do you think Germany didn’t know that the allies were planning a major landing in France in 1944?
    There is operational security, which is important. But the overall course of conduct of the ship of state is always visible.

  13. Tony W says:

    When reading cd6 – think Colbert or Swift – or “Onion” if you prefer. It’s much more fun that way

  14. bk says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Their biggest concern will be whether to order Grey Goose or Ketel One at the dinner party at Chez Panisse.

    This sentence is simply breathtaking in its dumbassery.

  15. Davebo says:

    @Tony W: cd6 is a national treasure.

    Tsar on the other hand actually seems to believe the BS he spouts here.

    Oh well. As a wise man once said. “Ya got your protons, ya got your croutons and ya got your morons”.

  16. rudderpedals says:

    Forcing western democracy on Afghanistan was a fool’s errand to begin with but I am not happy with the prospect of zero presence. I do not have an issue with it as a low profile base for surveillance or jumping off to somewhere else.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Usually it’s not wise to announce to your enemies in advance what you’ll be doing and when you’ll be doing it.

    Because, um, there is no way they will possibly be able to figure out what is going on.

  18. Motopilot says:

    @Tony W: It could well be that cd6 is the person who posts over at TPM as The Ghost of Eustace Tilley Very similar snark and writing style. It can be entertaining and, at times hilarious.

  19. That Other Mike says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Why don’t you tell us about what you might sell short now? You generally do.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    But out in the real world

    What would you know about the real world Tsar? Have you ever been there? ‘Cause I can tell you, it’s a bitch.

  21. bill says:

    sure, they’ll be replaced by “security forces” right? soldiers are soldiers, deal with it. i’m all about the drone management!