The New York Times on Monday reports that high-level officials at the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House are coming together to find a set of alternatives if a full military withdrawal in Afghanistan this year strips them of their central launch location for U.S. drones in the region.
Ahead of President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, the reporting says the White house is convening top advisors to look at options for perpetuating drone attacks in neighboring Pakistan if the U.S. is forced to abandon its Afghan military bases.
According to the Times:
The issue is coming to the fore after the Pentagon recently presented Mr. Obama with two options for the end of the year. One option calls for a presence through the end of Mr. Obama’s term of 10,000 American troops who could train Afghan troops, conduct counterterrorism raids and protect the American facilities, including those in eastern Afghanistan where drones and nuclear monitoring are based.
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Under the other, so-called zero option, no American troops would remain. The United States has said that if it is unable to reach a final security arrangement with Mr. Karzai, it is prepared, reluctantly, to pull out completely, as it did in Iraq in 2011.
As the possibility increases that no troops would be allowed to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, some of the officials who spoke to the Times admit that keeping a military foothold in Afghanistan is less about Afghan security than it is about maintaining regional dominance.
“You hear about the president’s decision of the ‘zero option’ in the context of the future of Afghanistan, but this is really more about Pakistan,” one former senior intelligence official who has consulted with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about the problem told the Times. “That’s where the biggest problem is.”