US may leave no troops in Afghanistan
"The US does not have an inherent objective of 'X' number of troops in Afghanistan,'' said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser. "We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government.''
The US now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 as recently as 2010. The US and its NATO allies agreed in November 2010 that they would withdraw all their combat troops by the end of 2014, but they have yet to decide what future missions will be necessary and how many troops they would require.
At stake is the risk of Afghanistan's collapse and a return to the chaos of the 1990s that enabled the Taliban to seize power and provide a haven for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Fewer than 100 al-Qaeda fighters are believed to remain in Afghanistan, although a larger number are just across the border in Pakistani sanctuaries.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he foresees a need for a US counterterrorism force in Afghanistan beyond 2014, plus a contingent to train Afghan forces. He is