President Obama will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai this Friday to discuss ongoing negotiations over the U.S.'s post-2014 role in Afghanistan, but the White House says not to expect any final decision about how many U.S. troops -- if any -- will stay in Afghanistan after the war's official drawdown at the end of next year.
In a conference call this afternoon, the Obama administration's Ben Rhodes told reporters that "they're not going to finalize that decision" in this discussion, but rather attempt to "reach a common understanding of how we can achieve" mutual objectives for the post-2014 relationship. Then, he says, negotiators in Washington "will be able to take that guidance and be able to finalize an agreement."
Among the topics up for discussion include the impending transition for the 2014 drawdown, as well as the plan for U.S. support in Afghanistan beyond that date. According to the White House, any continued U.S. troop presence will be guided by a few key goals: Assuring the continued progress of ongoing counterterrorism efforts and training and equipping the national Afghan security forces, while also guaranteeing full Afghan sovereignty.
"That's what guides us and that's what causes us to look for different potential troop numbers, or not having potential troops in the country," said Rhodes. "With the Afghans we'll be discussing how best to achieve those missions."
In that vein, Rhodes says the White House is not ruling out the possibility of withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan post-2014.
"That would be an option that we would consider. Because again, the president does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan," he said. "He views these negotiations as in service of these two missions" of counterterrorism and training and equipping Afghan forces.
"There are of course many different ways of accomplishing those objectives -- some of which might involve US troops, some of which might not," Rhodes said.
Despite speculation about the White House's plans for U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war, Doug Lute, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for South Asia, told reporters that he would not "lend any credibility" to the "wide range of numbers that have been available publicly" with regard to post-2014 U.S. troop presence.
Those numbers, he said, are predicated upon certain variables that are still up in the air.
At present, Lute says, Mr. Obama and Karzai will be more focused on what post-2014 missions might require U.S. troops in Afghanistan and what authorities the U.S. would need to implement those missions rather than exactly how many troops they'd require.
"They're going to be talking about missions and authorities -- not numbers," he said.