Although the Afghan war was supposedly "ended" as far as foreign combat troops were concerned a couple of years ago, almost 10,000 US troops still remain.
After recent deliberations among officials, the present plans include options that would leave thousands of troops in Afghanistan through 2016. Plans for successive withdrawals may be scrapped in the face of a continuing Taliban threat and with the Islamic State also trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. The Taliban claims there will be no peace agreement as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan.Proponents of keeping more U.S. troops in place argue that the Afghan forces are simply not capable of beating back the Taliban on their own. The Taliban have gained ground over this year in several areas. The U.S. has already been in Afghanistan for 14 years.The top international commander in Afghanistan, US General John Campbell, has sent five separate recommendations to both the Pentagon and NATO each with its own risk assessment. Among the options is one that would keep the U.S. presence at near 10,000 troops. At the other end of the scale would be a minimal force of just several hundred troops.As the officials consider the alternatives, many point to what happened in Iraq after the U.S. left. Opposition to the government grew and the Islamic State was able to take advantage of a weak military. While the emphasis will no doubt remain on training and advising, with counter-terrorism missions as well, many in the military worry that any force reduction could result in a failed mission. The Afghan government itself wants foreign troops to remain.Current plans call for all US remaining bases to be handed over to Afghan control by the end of 2016 and just a few hundred troops to remain in Kabul by the end of his term of office. Obama already agreed to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to the end of this year at the request of the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, even though Obama had planned to reduce the level to 5,500.Other NATO members also may keep more troops in Afghanistan than planned. Some officials insist that continued financial support is also crucial in keeping the Taliban and Islamic State at bay. The total NATO and US forces in Afghanistan at present are about 13,000. NATO will be closely monitoring any US decision on troop levels. One NATO official said:
"There are 30-plus countries ready to contribute; the question is how big the U.S. will be...Enablers give others confidence that if they get in a real pinch, the U.S. will be able to help them out. Will the U.S. provide the backbone around which NATO brings 30 more countries?"