This week, the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, sent Defense Secretary Leon Panetta three scenarios calling for between 6,000 and 20,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan. A contingent at the lower end of the range would focus primarily on counterterrorism activity carried out by Special Forces, while a force at the top of the range would allow for continued training of Afghan security forces and some joint operations with the Afghan military.
Obama has made no decisions on the size of a residual force, but in the past White House officials have suggested the president might opt for a force of about 10,000 troops.
This week, Pentagon officials said the US is likely to decide the size of any post-2014 force before turning to the question of the pace – or what Defense officials call the “slope” – of the drawdown of the 66,000 US forces in Afghanistan.
Some regional security experts say the best outcome of the meeting next week would be for Obama and Karzai to announce progress toward the conclusion of a SOFA – and perhaps even the number of US troops envisioned for a post-2014 force.
But Karzai has sounded resistant at times to the US insistence on immunity. Meanwhile, US officials and some members of Congress say that not one soldier will remain if immunity is not granted.
Last month, Karzai suggested after meetings in Kabul with Secretary Panetta that the immunity demand might depend on first sorting out who maintains control over detained Afghan citizens – particularly when it concerns key terrorist suspects. These are issues that “directly touch on Afghan sovereignty,” Karzai said.