Senior defense officials sidestepped the question, however, of whether zero troops is a realistic option in post-2014 Afghanistan.
Senior US officials insist, too, they are serious about the possibility of pulling nearly all US troops out of Afghanistan after US combat operations end, which is slated to happen at the end of 2014.
“There are, of course, many different ways of accomplishing those objectives, some of which might involve US troops, some of which might not,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communication, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.
Gen. John Allen, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has submitted military options that include three plans for troop levels at 6,000, 10,000, and 20,000.
By putting a “zero option” on the table in advance of Karzai’s visit, however, the Obama administration is injecting a lower figure in the military’s “Goldilocks” approach. This, in turn, changes the terms of the debate, since any figure higher than zero seems like a compromise.