National Security

WH might leave 10k in Afghanistan

The push for diplomacy on Iran; McRaven on FP’s Top Global Thinkers list and a little more.

The U.S. military's long-term presence in Afghanistan could range between 6,000 and 15,000 service members. The White House is debating how many troops should stay in the country after 2014, when the security transition is complete and the bulk of American forces are scheduled to return home. Both the NYT and the WSJ report this morning that the White House is considering leaving approximately 10,000 troops in the country after 2014. That number represents a midpoint, the WSJ reports, of the range of 6,000-15,000 troops that Gen. John Allen has recommended to the White House.

Any of these numbers is significantly smaller than the 25,000 troops that Pentagon water-cooler wisdom dictated could stay past 2014. And it's one-third smaller than what some military experts suggest the post-transition mission needs. Kim and Fred Kagan believe America's enduring presence should be closer to half the size of what is there now -- 66,000 troops -- and that the White House must be careful to leave a force large enough to carry out the tasks it is assigned. Conducting drone operations, engaging in specialized ground missions, and dropping precision-guided munitions from manned aircraft -- all likely part of U.S. security operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 2014 -- requires a sizeable residual force, they argue.

"I think it's imperative the White House understand that there is a real science behind assigning troops-to-task," Kim Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, told Situation Report on Sunday. "There are specialized planners who do that, and generating force levels by extrapolation and imagination leads to unsound strategy and extraordinary risk to the forces that remain behind."

But a significant question remains: what size force will stay in Afghanistan up to 2014? The "glide path," the rate at which troops withdraw from Afghanistan over the next 18 months, will set the tone for military operations until the war "ends" at the end of 2014. That is a critical period as the U.S. takes one last stab at stabilizing the country before turning security over fully to the Afghans. It is this question that remains under broader consideration, and Allen has reportedly not yet made his recommendations for how many troops he'd like in country up until 2014.

Allen spokesman Maj. Dave Nevers to Situation Report this morning: "General Allen's recommendations are still in formulation and will be forwarded to the President before the end of the year."

It has been long thought that Allen would like to keep as robust a fighting force as possible in Afghanistan through the 2013 fighting season, which ends about a year from now. Panetta has told Foreign Policy's National Security channel that there is little light between Allen and the White House on this issue.

Panetta to FP in September: "My view is that the president of the United States will rely a great deal on the recommendations of General Allen as to what he needs to accomplish the mission."

The FP Interview with Panetta: http://bit.ly/TlMDF9

The Kagans' piece in the WaPo over the weekend: http://wapo.st/QAytUu

Allen has returned to Afghanistan and remains in command of ISAF as the DoD Inspector General investigation continues its investigation into the e-mails between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, Allen will remain in command until he is relieved - in a transition that was planned long before the investigation was launched - by Gen. Joe Dunford, if he is confirmed, by early winter.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. And sign up for Situation Report here: http://bit.ly/NCN9uN or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

A representative from the Pentagon's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations e-mailed us to clarify something we wrote last week. The task force does assist the Afghan Ministry of Mines with tenders, but according to David Bolger, a spokesman for the task force, "The Task Force does not participate in the evaluation of the bids other than to provide the Ministry of Mines with legal and other counsel as the Ministry determines preferred bidders."

Brzezinski and former head of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, Rolf Ekeus, will talk this morning in Washington about how to renew "stalled diplomatic efforts" between the U.S. and Iran given that a new round of negotiations may begin by the end of the year. "With the conclusion of the U.S. presidential election behind us and a brief window before Iran enters its own election season, it is essential that the key parties renew stalled diplomatic efforts to prevent war and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran," according to a release from the National Iranian American Council and the Arms Control Association, which is hosting a conference this morning at 101 Constitution Avenue.

FP's new list of "top 100" Global Thinkers is out and it includes Adm. Bill McRaven of U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa. Overseeing the operation that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden of course puts him in the history books, but it's not all high-speed and high-tech: "The raid presented a compelling vision for the 21st-century U.S. military: fast, networked, and deadly. But though the modern-day warrior has tools at his disposal that his ancestors could only dream of, McRaven doesn't discount the old-fashioned virtue of a soldier's dedication to the mission. "In an age of high technology and Jedi Knights we often overlook the need for personal involvement, but we do so at our own risk," he has written. http://bit.ly/YhtNEZ

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