Retired Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News Wednesday that the “zero option” being considered by the Obama administration, where the U.S. would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan after 2014, was a mistake and a large number needed to remain for at least five years to assist in counterterrorism operations and continue transitioning Afghan security forces.
Obama’s consideration of the “zero option” comes as his relationship with Afghan president Hamid Karzai has slowly deteriorated. The New York Times reports it reached a new low in June after the U.S. sought peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar:
Mr. Karzai promptly repudiated the talks and ended negotiations with the United States over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep American forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it. Mr. Karzai, according to those sources, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.
Now, Keane says, the Taliban will attempt to “wait this thing out,” and Afghan security forces will be presented with a serious challenge when U.S. troops leave:
KEANE: Numbers do matter because they give us the wherewithal to accomplish a number of missions. Certainly counterterrorism mission is very important. Providing the neighbors for Afghan security forces is important and certainly giving them some advice on the training situation, all those things are paramount, if we are going to validate and continue to succeed in this mission and not put it at great risk, which removing all of our forces certainly would do.
MARTHA MACCALLUM: I’m going to stay with you for a moment, General. What would you advise the president, if he were to ask you, about how many troops we need there and for how long, and what kind of goal you would set right now?
KEANE: I think you need the troops there probably for about a five-year period, as we transition the Afghan security forces, and also to continue the counterterrorism mission. At a minimum, those numbers are around 20,000. The administration is not going to entertain that, I believe. The generals recommended a little less than that, and I would suspect, given the fact that this administration has never accepted a force level recommendation from its generals, that they will put in play some forces that will be the minimum forces, something probably under 10,000, which will be far less than what the generals believe is necessary.