LOLITA C. BALDOR
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House is reviewing a new series of options that would leave fewer than 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
The options, requested by the administration, include a range of troop numbers from zero to 10,000 U.S. troops and reflect the long-running debate over how many are needed to train and advise the Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions.
The official was not authorized to talk on the record by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Some U.S. officials, including senior military leaders, have argued that the larger number is needed to conduct the multi-faceted mission and provide enough security for the troops and other Americans there. Other U.S. officials say the Afghan security forces have improved enough so that fewer U.S. troops are needed.
Combat operations end on Dec. 31. Earlier plans called for U.S. and NATO nations to leave 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan to advise and assist Afghan forces and do counterterror operations as long as Afghan leaders sign a security agreement.
The decision on troop numbers has been stalled by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign the security agreement, which would provide the legal protections needed to enable U.S. troops to remain in the country. The U.S. currently has about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Afghans went to the polls to elect a new president, and partial results suggest there will likely be a runoff next month between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and rival Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Both men have said that if elected they will move ahead with the security agreement, paving the way for a small number of U.S. and NATO troops to stay.
Karzai was constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
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