The top US commander in Afghanistan says US President Barack Obama’s plan to pull American troops out of Afghanistan by 2016 is “is not a zero option” and “not a withdrawal plan.”
General Joseph Dunford has said that Obama’s plan for the future of Afghanistan is a “transition” that has no similarity to the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Last month, Obama announced in the White House Rose Garden that Washington will keep “approximately 9,800” troops in Afghanistan after 2014. He also said “by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul.”
According to a senior US military official who spoke with The Washington Post on condition of anonymity, about 12,000 conventional troops including 8,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
In order to reach Obama’s announced total of 9,800 troops, Washington will also leave a counterterrorism force of about 1,800 in the country.
“Right now, I don’t have any concerns [about] getting to 12,000” for the conventional force, Dunford told a small group of reporters in Brussels, indicating that the United States is certain Afghanistan’s next president, to be elected in a June 14 runoff, will sign the bilateral security agreement Washington needs to keep troops in the country beyond 2014.
Last month, a Foreign Policy magazine article said the “dirty secret about Obama’s Afghan plan” is that an “invisible army” of US officials and intelligence personnel will remain in the country well in the future.
According to the article, what remains unclear is the extent of US operations under the auspices of agencies like the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which was recently in the headlines for the covert creation of a text-based social network to stir political unrest in Cuba.
US foreign service officers in Afghanistan will work “alongside scores more from USAID, the Justice Department, the Department of Agriculture” and “a clandestine force reportedly including hundreds of personnel from the CIA and other agencies,” the article read.
This comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai cast doubt on Washington’s intentions in his country following a secret deal between the US government and the Taliban militant group which led last week to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Afghan prisoners held at the notorious US-run prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“The president is now even more distrustful of US intentions in the country,” an unnamed senior source at Karzai’s palace in Kabul said on Monday.
“He is asking: How come the prisoner exchange worked out so well, when the Afghan peace process failed to make any significant progress?” the source added, referring to negotiations with the Taliban.