Pentagon: 10,000 Troops Or Nothing In Afghanistan
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pentagon: 10,000 Troops Or Nothing In Afghanistan


The U.S. threat to exercise the dreaded “zero option” in Afghanistan should Hamid Karzai refuse to sign the bilateral security agreement found new steam on Tuesday when news emerged that the Pentagon has proposed to the White House that the two contingencies it is prepared to accept in Afghanistan are one where 10,000 American troops remain or none at all. “The proposal is 10,000 or basically nothing, a pullout,”according to one anonymous official.

The New York Times reported that the figure, which is the subject of much debate in the White House and the U.S. strategic community, is the midpoint of the range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops. According to anonymous officials the Times spoke to, the Pentagon sees any number of troops fewer than 10,000 as inadequate and suspects that it would be unable to “protect the reduced retinue of diplomats, military and intelligence officials that remain in Afghanistan.”

News of the Pentagon estimate comes a few weeks after a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report predicted a bleak future for Afghanistan after U.S. and coalition troops depart. That report “predicts that the Taliban and other power brokers will become increasingly influential as the United States winds down its longest war in history.”

Certain White House officials questioned the Pentagon’s insistence on a 10,000 or zero strategy. Vice President Joe Biden and “some officials in the White House National Security Council” were among those to dispute the Pentagon’s proposal.

The United States currently bears the costs for the majority of the international troop presence in Afghanistan, maintaining about 37,500 total. The Obama administration is keen to maintain a small contingent of U.S. troops in Afghanistan following a general drawdown this year. The bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government is the cornerstone of this strategy and would allow U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan to train the Afghan National Army and Security Forces and conduct limited counterterrorism operations. The strategic imperative for the Obama administration has been made more urgent by the political ambiguity in Afghanistan as it heads for elections in April. Furthermore, Islamic extremist groups such as the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network are eager to undermine the control of the central government in Kabul–a complete drawdown of foreign forces makes this objective more likely to succeed.

The Pentagon’s proposal and the entire debate on post-2014 troop numbers in Afghanistan could be rendered inutile should Hamid Karzai or his successor refuse to sign the bilateral security agreement. Without the agreement, there would be no legal basis for the United States to maintain troops in Afghanistan past its general withdrawal this year. Caitlin M. Hayden, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council says that should the bilateral security agreement not get signed, the U.S. “will initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. That is not a future we are seeking, and we do not believe that it is in Afghanistan’s interests.”

January 25, 2014 at 01:50

After Iraq and Afghanistan, who is next in the long list of to-be-conquered countries?

January 24, 2014 at 21:44

Afghanistan shares border with the Central Asia, China, Pakistan and Iran. Having a 10,000 people base in Afghanistan would be very effective for US policy to contain the unfriendly states.

The unfortunate truth is Afghanistan people have suffered too much under colonialism, soviet invasion and the American counter-terrorism. The civilians still felt that the Taliban does a better job than outsiders, despite their extremism.

Having a force less than 10,000 in that area would be ineffective for US to perform counter-terrorism, training, protecting military civilians and also perform espionage on those unfriendly states in the region.

Last but not least, as Afghanistan starts to settle, the US government does not want to miss out on the peace dividends, and worry that the Chinese/Iranians would come in to grab the pie like what Iran did to Iraq.

January 24, 2014 at 23:55

The “unfriendly states” have lived with the Afghan people for ages … the Americans come from the other side of the globe … how long do you think this grand American strategy will be sustainable … and at what cost … ?? … and the “unfriendly” states are likely to grow stronger economically and militarily in the years ahead … do you think Pakistan can handle the task for its masters in Britain and the US … ??

January 24, 2014 at 00:32

After having fought the soviets and now the americans…will the afgans accept 10 thousand troops and bases in their land? Lets hold a democratic referendum to find out.

January 23, 2014 at 23:52

The military does an excellant job considering the ROE’s…….the elected fools in Washington are the problem…….I like the “zero option”……lets get the f__k out of there!

January 23, 2014 at 14:31

Yo Panda,

The number of 10,000 is only for the uniformed troops. Have you considered the number of civilian contractors (ex- US military) inside Afghanistan and their projection, even after withdrawal?

There will be more than 100,000 contractors in Afghanistan with 10,000 uniformed troops, if the agreement is signed.

Even though the fact is that Afghans hate them all and want them to leave ASAP.

January 23, 2014 at 12:10

Afghanistan conflicts has to be resolved by the Afghan people … they have to figure out how they would achieve the equilibrium and stability … this can not be out sourced …

It is still not clear, after 12 years of failed intervention, thousands of lives and billions of dollars wasted, with nothing to show for, why is the US so desperate to station 10,000 troops in Afghanistan … can any one explain … ?

ako ni
February 1, 2014 at 01:34

there are many explanations to it. as a world leader, us wants that countries should respect human rights male or female and obviously Taliban don’t have respect to female citz. its one way of preventing radical Muslim to gain control of Afghanistan like Taliban and other reasons related to it.

January 23, 2014 at 11:01

Troop casualties reduced when troop numbers were dramatically increased in 2010. With a smaller troop number, their casualties will be higher. The mission may be over but the war is just getting started.

January 23, 2014 at 13:03

@ Kanes,
You said: Troop casualties reduced when troop numbers were dramatically increased in 2010. With a smaller troop number, their casualties will be higher. The mission may be over but the war is just getting started.

> That’s not how war works. Fewer troops = higher casualties? Nope wrong.

Fewer troops = LOWER casualties. How can more troops = less casualties WHEN

higher troops on the battlefield = more targets for insurgents to shoot = higher troop casualties.

It make sense does it not? You are fighting against an opponent that uses hit and run tactics and uses long range sniper tactics + IEDs, so……….

Increasing more troops in afghanistan = higher chance of U.S troops being exposed to IEDs + Snipers (more targets) = higher chance of being sniped or bombed = higher troop casualties because U.S troops PATROL + REMAIN STATIONARY in an area (sitting ducks)

January 24, 2014 at 10:31

Nope. That is not how it worked in Afghanistan. If you look at the casualties graphs it becomes clear when troop numbers were raised, overall casualties fell.

The rationale is the larger troop numbers were successful in attacking Taliban positions with more accuracy, consistency and conituation. Taliban is a very small outfit compared to US troops but spread thin across a large area. More troops means Taliban getting thinner in its spread and less effective.

A half hearted commitment is as bad as no commitment at all. It will not achieve any objective excpet keeping Hamid Karzai or his democratic replacement loyal to USA.

January 24, 2014 at 05:53


Who’s going to pay for it?

January 24, 2014 at 10:33

That is the billion dollar question. But it is essential for the security of USA and European countries as we saw from 2001 to 2005.

Taliban, Haqqini and AQ networks are re-establishing themselves in Afghanistan already in a big way. Afghanistan is only their home base from which attacks could be planned and terrorists could be dispatched to almost anywhere.

January 24, 2014 at 16:42


In my opinion, Afghanistan is the most obvious symptom of festering terrorism, but it is not the root cause we should be addressing.

Right now Saudi Arabia is the largest supporter of Islamic terrorism on Earth. Through private donations and a blind eye turned by the Saudi authorities, they allow Saudi money to pay for and equip these terrorists.

I say we pull out of Afghanistan, reach an understanding with Iran, and let Iran and China do some truly terrible things to the region. We are hamstrung by our RoE’s and relatively independent media. Sometimes you just gotta let the bad guys do bad things to even worse people.

Stefan Stackhouse
January 23, 2014 at 07:37

Zero sounds a lot better to me. The US is NOT a Eurasian land power, and it has been way too costly to pretend like we are. We have more urgent priorities these days.

Peter Dow
January 23, 2014 at 07:11

Regarding the Pentagon’s proposal for a MINIMUM of 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.

One does require more troops to keep an airbridge (that is to say a military base supplied only by air, with airfields, runways etc) open vs all foes.

20,000 French troops proved to be insufficient when in 1954 they were guarding one airbridge military base at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam when the French base was overrun by the Viet Minh,

If you have only one large base then fewer troops are required. You need to occupy a big area to defend the landing fight path vs enemy ground to air missiles and anti-aircraft gun-fire.

The area occupied by the French at Dien Bien Phu provide to be too small at only 2 x 5 miles.

Occupying a base area of at least 20 x 20 miles would be better, more practical to defend.

One does need to defend a large perimeter to keep the enemy guns out of range of the base’s runways.

Typically 1000 guards are required to defend one 1 base in routine circumstances to defend the perimeter defences alone.

If the Taliban are surged massively, perhaps supported by regular troops of Pakistan, Iran or even Afghanistan, and the enemy army brings artillery to bear and concentrates a sustained attack on one base, as did the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu then the base would need 10,000 guards to defend the base and win the battle.

Fewer troops are required if engineers build impenetrable wide perimeter defences, meaning vehicle barriers anti-tank minefields, infantry barriers, barbed wire, anti-personnel mine-fields – to a mine field thickness of 2 miles all around the base, and that could be 40 miles or more of a perimeter circumference to build – and the perimeter watched over 24/7 by guards in hardened machine gun positions.

For Afghanistan, if I only had 10,000 troops to deploy then I wouldn’t have enough for the proposed 9 bases.

Since each base would require 1000 guards in routine circumstances then 9 bases would require 9 x 1000 = 9000 troops just to guard the 9 bases, which would only leave me 1000 troops for operations outside the bases.

With only 10,000 troops I’d establish no more than 5 bases which would need 5 x 1000 = 5000 troops to guard the bases and leave 5000 troops for operations outside the bases, an average of 2000 troops per base.

In the event of a sustained assault as per Dien Bein Phu, if I could fly in reinforcement troops from reserves outside Afghanistan to the base under attack, I would fly in an additional 8000 troops to each base that came under a sustained attack.

If there were no troops available to fly in to reinforce the attacked bases then I would abandon some of the 5 bases, if necessary all but one, redeploying the troops from abandoned bases so that I had enough troops to defend the fewer remaining bases.

See the AfPak Mission forum for more details and to discuss strategy.

Perimeter defences plan for a military base

AfPak Mission Channel

smartyass says
January 23, 2014 at 06:12

The U.S. Pentagon CLEALRY does not care at all about the thousands of soldiers who have returned home with missing limbs, blinded eyes, permanent spinal injuries from roadside bomb blasts and manymore who are afflicted with PTSD an illness that is often life-long. More war, more suffering but the U.S. does not understand this at tall.

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