Panetta would not comment on the troop levels being considered. However, last August, the press began reporting that the Pentagon was pushing for a 25,000 troop enduring presence. That number is still being floated. Responding to these reports last month, Marc Grossman, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the 25,000 troops figure is “speculative” and that a number has yet to be decided upon. Grossman did not, however, deny that the Pentagon is pushing for the 25,000 troops. A 15,000 troop figure has also been floated around in the press.
It is worth noting that there were only 34,000 troops in Afghanistan when Obama took office. If 25,000 troops were kept in Afghanistan after 2014, that would mean that the net withdrawal would be a mere 9,000 troops. Furthermore, before 2008, troop levels were at roughly 25,000 or less. So leaving 25,000 troops in Afghanistan would be to merely return to 2007 troop levels. Leaving 15,000 troops would be a return to 2004-2005 troop levels.
The decision about post-2014 troop numbers will not include a timetable for the removal of US troops over the next two years, according to CNN. There are about 68,000 US troops left in Afghanistan. There is no plan currently in place for their withdrawal.
The decision about troop levels is also likely to include an end date for what is already US’s longest war. The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the US and Afghanistan earlier this year suggests a US troop presence until at least 2024.
No word yet on the rumor I’m hearing that the 25,000 or so troops will be rebranded as the Jill Kelley Corps of “honorary consuls” and “social liasons”.