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White House Says All U.S. Troops Might Leave Afghanistan by End of 2014

January 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: As the president’s second term takes shape, the Obama administration is grappling with one of its thorniest challenges, deciding how many troops will or will not remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

Judy Woodruff has that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The talk of how many U.S. troops to leave in Afghanistan comes with 66,000 still serving there, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2010.

Under current plans, combat forces would be withdrawn by the end of 2014, leaving an undetermined number of Americans to train Afghan troops. But, yesterday, the White House deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters the number could be zero.

He said: “We wouldn’t rule out any option. The U.S. doesn’t have an inherent objective of X-number of troops in Afghanistan.”

The comment raised eyebrows in Washington, especially in light of something that Vice President Joe Biden said in a campaign debate last fall.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: We are leaving in 2014, period. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Underlying all this, U.S. and Afghan negotiators at odds over granting American soldiers immunity from prosecution under Afghan law after 2014.

The issue is expected to come up Friday, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with President Obama at the White House.

But if past experience is any indicator, agreement may be hard to come by. In 2011, negotiations to leave American trainers in Iraq broke down over the immunity question, and no U.S. troops remain there.