By Chris Lawrence (CNN)-
US soldiers forced to stay in Afghanistan.
New details tonight about just how many American troops will remain in the country, and risk their lives after the bulk of US forces leave next year.
The options are on the table:
At the low end: a little more than 6,000 troops. Mostly special operations forces hunting terrorists, with a small amount of training for Afghan forces.
The 10,000 option would still focus on Al Qaeda, but would add conventional troops to expand Afghan training.
A 15,000 option would include even more conventional troops to go on limited patrols, and give the Afghans even more support.
Some experts say forget that last option 15,000.
"It's not politically tenable in Congress, it's not doable from a budget execution perspective."
Analyst Stephanie Sanok worked in Baghdad, and developed options for the Iraq
draw down. She says between war fatigue and spending cuts, even the
middle option may be a reach.
"My guess is, you end up closer to the 6,000-person option than the 10,000-person option."
Analyst Jeff Dressler argues the US will still have to keep helicopter crews,
medical teams and other backup for whatever troops are left.
"Just keeping 6,000 probably isn't that much cheaper than 15,000, because there are basic things that you need to have there just for the six."
Dressler says lowball options are minimizing the danger any remaining troops could face.
"I would argue that even with 20,000 troops you are still assuming quite a bit of risk. It's by no means a low-risk option."
General John Allen presented these options in one of his last acts as Commander. But General Joseph Dunford, the man taking Allen's place next month admits, he wasn't included in the talks over options. That could signal some tense fights with members of congress, who are skeptical of the draw down plan.
"Senator I have not been included in those conversations."
that's interesting to me. The guy that's going to take over the command
has not even been included in those conversations."
So what's the big picture goal?
In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett in Afghanistan, the Defense Secretary said terrorists just have to be
defeated, not decimated.
"I think you can reach a point where you so significantly weaken al Qaeda that although there may still be a few people around, they won't be able to conduct the operations that they've conducted in the past."
"Now, none of these options cover how quickly the bulk of the troops will come home this year and next year. That pace still has to be decided. And it could be just as big of a political fight."
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