By David S. Cloud
Copyright 2014 Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is planning to go to the White House on Monday to argue for keeping about 10,000 troops in the country after this year, a subject that has exposed a fissure between some of President Barack Obama’s top advisers and the Pentagon.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who commands all international forces in Afghanistan, is recommending that U.S. troops stay to help train Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism operations against Taliban insurgents and al-Qaida-linked militants. All other U.S. troops will be withdrawn this year.
To make the deployment more attractive to a skeptical White House, Dunford says the 10,000 should pull out by 2017, when Obama leaves office, according to two officials, who confirmed a Wall Street Journal report. The Pentagon previously had favored deploying the troops for a decade.
But Vice President Joe Biden and other key White House aides favor leaving only 1,000 to 2,000 troops, said the officials, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal deliberations. Pentagon officials say a force that size is too small to protect itself while also conducting operations.
Biden argues that the insurgency has been contained after 13 years of war and that Afghan security forces are strong enough to preserve security in urban and other key areas. He also says a stable Afghanistan is no longer critical to halting terrorist attacks against the United States, one official said.
The Dunford plan has won support from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, CIA Director John Brennan and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the officials said.
Biden’s proposal is backed by Antony Blinken, the deputy national security adviser, and Douglas Lute, a retired Army general who now is U.S. ambassador to NATO. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, is a “wild card” who has not made clear which option she favors, one official said.
It’s not clear the dispute will be resolved Monday, the day before Obama delivers his annual State of the Union address.