Dempsey said the agreement could be in place as soon as October, according to a Pentagon news release. If the Afghans consent, there could be a longterm U.S. presence after combat operations cease at the end of 2014.
“We would like to have the enduring framework in place by October 2014 so there would be about 90 days before the current mandate ends and a new NATO operation called Resolute Support begins,” Dempsey said during a news conference in Afghanistan.
Dempsey met with Afghan president Hamid Karzai before his remarks and came away optimistic that an agreement could be reached. But U.S. leaders expressed similar optimism before the U.S. pullout in Iraq. There no military agreement was reached, leaving no American troops in Iraq beyond those assigned to the embassy.
If an agreement is reached to leave some number of American troops in Afghanistan, it remains unclear how the military would foot the bill.
The Pentagon is facing $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years, a budget number that would be difficult to reach if large numbers of troops remain deployed.
There’s also the issue of where the U.S. could find a few thousand troops to leave in Afghanistan.
The Army announced last month that it will cut 12 or more combat brigades by 2017, including Fort Carson’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
With a dozen fewer brigades to cover commitments in Korea, Europe and the Middle East, adding another lingering mission could spread ground forces too thin.
Another question for commanders: If there is a permanent U.S. presence in post-war Afghanistan, how and where will forces live, and will they bring their families?