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US Considering 'Zero Option' for Afghanistan in 2014

  • Kent Klein

White House officials say the United States is considering removing all its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but that they have many other options. Officials say the decision will not be made soon.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Tuesday played down reports that President Barack Obama may pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan when American combat troops leave at the end of next year.

He said the so-called “zero option” is one of many possible plans for postwar Afghanistan, and that the president is under no pressure to decide soon.

“I want to make clear, today’s story notwithstanding, that this is not a decision that is imminent. And we are talking about a residual force, a potential residual force, in a year and a half. So these are ongoing conversations," said Carney.

Carney also played down a New York Times report that President Obama is giving new consideration to the “zero option” because he was frustrated after a contentious telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in late June.

“Now, we have had disagreements in the past, and we will have them in the future, there is no question. But the core agreement here is on a future in Afghanistan that is stable and democratic and secure," he said.

Carney said Obama had not spoken with the Afghan president since the teleconference, but that they were likely to speak again soon.

The Obama administration has discussed the possibility of the “zero option” for several months. At a joint White House news conference with Karzai in January, the president responded to a question about a total U.S. troop pullout by saying Washington’s main objective in Afghanistan had been met.

“We achieved our central goal, which is - or have come very close to achieving our central goal, which is to de-capacitate al-Qaida, to dismantle them, to make sure that they cannot attack us again," said President Obama.

Also in January, the president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters the administration would consider the zero option if all U.S. goals in Afghanistan are met.

“The objective of the bilateral security agreement negotiations is not to accomplish a number of U.S. troops in a country. It is to accomplish the two goals of denying a safe haven to al-Qaida and training and equipping Afghan national security forces," said Rhodes.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the United States will have clear objectives for its continued involvement in Afghanistan, and that those could be met with a residual force or by other means.

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