WASHINGTON (PAN from peace talks.
“News of the ‘zero option’ damages our position in Afghanistan, erodes our standing with our allies, emboldens the Taliban, and demoralises our troops. I call on the president to confirm the assurances of his senior officials and clarify his ‘zero option’ position,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard Buck McKeon.
McKeon added he has been assured by the Obama administration there was no ‘zero option’ scenario under consideration. “I was assured the US has committed to post-2014 support to include troops on the ground. I was further informed a ‘zero option’ would violate American commitments to the Afghan people.”
Congressman Mike Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “Drawing down our forces in the region would mean forfeiting the resources we need to keep Americans safe from terrorist attacks in the future.”
He hoped the president did not make the mistake of jeopardising national security by taking the pressure off the Al Qaeda and Taliban and allowing them to grow stronger each day, Pompoe argued.
Gen (retired) Jack Keane, said that the numbers of troops do matter in Afghanistan because they give the US the wherewithal to accomplish a number of missions.
“Certainly the counter terrorism mission is very important, providing enablers for the Afghan security forces is also important and certainly giving them some advice on the training situation. All those things are paramount, if we are going to validate and continue to succeed in this mission and not put it at great risk, which removing all our forces certainly would do,” he said.
Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation argued that considering leaving no US troops behind in Afghanistan after it ends its combat mission there in 2014 would undermine US security interests, as it would pave the way for the Taliban to regain influence in Afghanistan and cripple the US ability to conduct counterterrorism missions in the region.
“Obama instead should commit the US to maintaining a robust troop presence (at least 15,000–20,000) in Afghanistan after 2014 in order to train and advise the Afghan troops and conduct counterterrorism missions as necessary,” she added.
“The US should also remain diplomatically, politically, and financially engaged in Afghanistan in order to sustain the gains made over the last decade and ensure that the country does not again serve as a sanctuary for international terrorists intent on attacking the US,” Curtis said.
The current public discussion of zero US troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 will encourage those hardliner elements of the Taliban who have no interest in a negotiated settlement and believe they can simply wait the Americans out, eminent counter terrorism expert Peter Bergen, said.
“It also discourages the many millions of Afghans who see a longtime US presence as the best guarantor that the Taliban won’t come back in any meaningful way and also an important element in dissuading powerful neighbors such as Pakistan from interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs,” Bergen said.
However, the largest progressive group of veterans in America, with over 360,000 supporters, VoteVets.org, welcomed the news of zero option.
“If the killings of Osama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda leaders taught us one thing, it is that we don’t need troops fighting in Afghanistan to combat the terror threat to the United States,” remarked Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org.
“We can achieve our security goals with special forces and surgical strikes. Further, we cannot want a democratic, stable Afghanistan more than the government and the people there,” he concluded.