US may leave no troops in Afghanistan
Administration officials in recent days have said they are considering a range of options for a residual US troop presence of as few as 3,000 and as many as 15,000, with the number linked to a specific set of military-related missions like hunting down terrorists.
Asked in a conference call with reporters whether zero was now an option, Rhodes said, "That would be an option we would consider.''
His statement could be interpreted as part of an administration negotiating strategy. On Friday Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss ways of framing an enduring partnership beyond 2014.
The two are at odds on numerous issues, including a US demand that any American troops who would remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law. Karzai has resisted, while emphasizing his need for large-scale US support to maintain an effective security force after 2014.
In announcing last month in Kabul that he had accepted Obama's invitation to visit this week, Karzai made plain his objectives.
"Give us a good army, a good air force and a capability to project Afghan interests in the region,'' Karzai said, and he would gladly reciprocate by easing the path to legal immunity for US troops.
Karzai is scheduled to meet Thursday with Panetta at the Pentagon and with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department.
Without explicitly mentioning immunity