The White House has released a statement saying that the United States may completely withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by December 2014.
The end of 2014 marks the deadline for withdrawal of NATO combat forces, a process which began in November 2010.
This is the first explicit timetable on when American troops will be pulled from the Afghanistan missions.
The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 as recently as 2010.
“The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of ‘X’ number of troops in Afghanistan,” said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser.
“We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government.”
Many are worried that Afghan forces are not ready to take on al-Qaeda on their own, and that the withdrawal of American troops could cause a revisiting of Afghanistan’s collapse in the 1990s, when the Taliban was able to seize power.
Fewer than 100 al-Qaeda fighters are believed to remain in Afghanistan, although a larger number are just across the border in Pakistan.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he foresees a need for a U.S. counterterrorism force in Afghanistan beyond 2014, plus a contingent to train Afghan forces.
It is said Panetta believes the U.S. should keep approximately 9,000 American troops in the country.
James Gilbert | Elite.