The news conference
after the discussions did not indicate how many troops would remain after 2014 when the present troop deployment ends, or how quickly withdrawal would take place. On the latter issue, all that was said was that the withdrawal would come more quickly than expected.
said to reporters:
“Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission—training, advising and assisting Afghan forces.”
However, he said nothing about specific troop levels. At present there are still 66,000 troops in Afghanistan
, down considerably from about 100,000 at the peak of the surge back in 2011. After the remaining troops withdraw by the end of 2014 and the NATO mission ends, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) will need to be reached that sets out the conditions under which any troops serve after 2014.
Back in May
of last year, the U.S. and Afghanistan signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement but the details of how many troops would remain in Afghanistan and the terms under which they would serve were not worked out at that time. However, a US presence in Afghanistan was contemplated for about a decade.
John Allen the top US general in Afghanistan recommended keeping 6,000 to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. Anonymous administration officials claim that Obama is considering in the range of 3,000 to 9,000. Many of these would no doubt be involved in training while others would be special forces.
The US insists that its forces must have immunity from prosecution under Afghan law. This demand may cause problems in reaching an agreement to keep any troops in Afghanistan at all. In Iraq, the Iraqi government refused to budge on the issue and as a result almost no troops remain. Obama says that he is still receiving recommendations from the Pentagon on the number of troops that should remain in Afghanistan after 2014. The lack of specific information about the speed of withdrawal or the number of troops that will remain shows that the US is likely far from disengagement from the conflict in Afghanistan.
The weak and corrupt Afghan government will need western help indefinitely if it is to survive. The insurgency on the other hand will probably survive and even grow as troops withdraw. Although there are plans to negotiate with the Taliban, it is unlikely that rebel groups will agree to a peace deal as long as troops from the US and other countries remain in Afghanistan.