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How Real Is the Zero-option?


The White House has directed the Pentagon to have adequate plans in place to enable the US completely withdraw forces from Afghanistan if Kabul and Washington fail to sign the bilateral security agreement. Echoing the move by Washington, NATO member countries also agreed to start considering a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by end of this year. However, NATO officials have also said that they prefer to continue supporting Afghanistan after 2014 by leaving behind a small military force that would train and advise Afghanistan’s National security forces. The White House directive to the Pentagon to plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan has once again sparked concerns that Afghanistan may fail in sustaining its security if the US chooses to leave the country completely.

The latest indication by the US to consider a complete withdrawal is coming after Barack Obama’s warning last week to Afghan President Karzai that the US was still considering a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan if Afghanistan does not sign the security agreement. In the meantime, there were reports in recent weeks that the Americans have given up their hope to have the bilateral security agreement signed by President Karzai. Officials in Washington had said that Washington would wait until Karzai leaves the office after the upcoming election and a new leader replaces him. However, the latest signs of warning from Washington suggest that US is losing patience despite the fact that the so-called ‘zeor-option’ is the most unfavorable option for Washington.

It seems that the United States is keeping pressures on the Afghan president in the hopes to get him sign the security agreement as quick as possible. The fact is that the US still prefers not to break the deal and wait for the current Afghan government or Karzai’s successor to sign the security agreement. Many in Washington still believe that leaving no troops in Afghanistan would be a strategic error, leaving Afghanistan in an absolute state of uncertainty with its security forces in dire need of foreign military and financial assistance. Therefore, the United States has so far kept all options and most probably will go to keep the window open for signing the deal until after Afghanistan’s presidential election.

However, still there is potential risk for the two sides to fail reaching an agreement over the issue. Afghan officials are seemingly underestimating US threats of complete withdrawal, believing that Afghanistan is too important for Washington to leave the country after more than twelve years of war against the Taliban. The argument is one side of the story. The fact is that American politics in Washington, particularly regarding Afghanistan, is not in favor of Afghanistan mission and US prolonged presence in Afghanistan after 2014. And public opposition to America’s presence in Afghanistan is widespread, making it a real possibility for the White House to consider a complete drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that the US is not any closer to decide for a ‘zero-option’ in Afghanistan, it seems that the Obama administration is increasingly getting frustrated with the Afghanistan government. And this is not a good sign about the developments of events in Washington over US military presence in Afghanistan.

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