With Afghan President Hamid Karzai meeting with President Obama in Washington on Friday, White House officials are saying for the first time that the U.S. might pull all of its soldiers out of Afghanistan after 2014 — the so-called zero option, which would come over the objection of military commanders. The Pentagon wants to leave up to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan to continue strengthening and training Afghan forces, and to keep al Qaeda from rebuilding in the war-torn country after the U.S. and its NATO allies withdraw at the end of 2014. (The U.S. has already reduced its troop strength to 66,000 from a peak of 100,000.) Should Obama push to keep some U.S. soldiers in the country to help ensure stability, or is it long past time we brought all the troops home?
It's smart to consider the "zero option": Karzai thinks he "holds all the cards," says David W. Barno at Foreign Policy, on the theory that the U.S. has no "workable option" other than leaving behind a sizable force to back him up. He's wrong. We're in a budget crisis, so perpetual spending on troops in Afghanistan is a "tough sell." Besides, we used the zero option in Iraq, and it "has not become an Iranian puppet state nor descended into chaos."
"A 'zero option' for Afghanistan"
But cutting Afghanistan loose would be disastrous: The "zero option" would be a huge mistake, says Max Boot at Commentary, as would leaving behind a token force of 3,000 (as some in the administration want). That's a force big enough to anger Afghans "but too small to be militarily effective." Our troops are an "essential bulwark" against the return of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Afghan forces simply aren't strong enough to "stave off disaster by themselves."
"White House considering the 'zero option' for Afghanistan?"
Afghans need the U.S. to leave: Obama and Karzai "have a mammoth agenda to sort out," says the United Arab Emirates' Khaleej Times in an editorial, but the bottom line is that "the time has come for the U.S. to disengage itself from the region" — for Afghanistan's sake, not America's. "Obama, who in his first term dispensed with his promise of ending the Afghan war, has a responsibility to hand over a free and stable Afghanistan back to its sovereigns."
"Crisis talks on Afghanistan"
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