If reports are true that the Obama administration is considering reducing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to 3,000 at the end of 2014, the U.S. presence there would be effectively over. The war that began there in 2001 would end.
The White House has hinted that absent an agreement with the government of Hamid Karzai or its successor, the U.S. and its coalition allies might even pull out all troops when the U.N .mandate for their presence expires at the end of 2014.
A similar impasse over a status of forces agreement in Iraq – the right of U.S. troops to conduct independent combat missions with immunity from local law – led to the earlier-than-planned withdrawal of the U.S. military there.
It is probably fair to say to say that the American public, at least that dwindling few who still pay attention to this war, would not be brokenhearted if we pull completely out of Afghanistan.
There are 66,000 American troops there now, methodically turning over their outlying bases to the Afghan army which still needs substantial U.S. support, including supplies, transport and intelligence.
The NATO commanders seem agreed that a residual force of, at a minimum, 10,000 to 30,000 troops is needed to protect the status quo and continue training and equipping the Afghan security forces. A force of 3,000 to 6,000 could protect Kabul and the vital Bagram air base and not much else.
A stay-behind force of 3,000 is almost the same as no presence at all. At best that size force might prevent another Benghazi; at worst, it would provide an escort sufficient to spirit a pro-U.S. government to the airport as the Taliban and assorted warlords closed in on the capital.