QUESTION: A question with regard to the issue of what U.S. troops might remain in Afghanistan after 2014, there's been some talk in recent days in some circles about a so-called "zero option" -- that is no U.S. troops to remain on the ground based in Afghanistan after 2014. Is that an option you're considering? And could you also walk us through some of the other options you're considering?
MR. RHODES: I'd just say a version of what I said before, which is that would be an option that we would consider, because the President does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He views these negotiations as in service of the two missions, security missions identified post-2014 -- again, counterterrorism particularly focused on al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and equipping of ANSF.
So that's the objective. The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of X number of troops in Afghanistan. We have an objective of making sure there's no safe haven for al Qaeda within Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government and the denial of that safe haven. So that's what guides us and that's what causes us to look for different potential troop numbers or not having potential troops in the country.
Now, with the Afghans we'll be discussing how to best achieve those missions consistent with I think Afghanistan's shared interest in a partnership with the United States. I think we both agree, both our countries agree that there is an interest in an enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan. Afghans need to know that as they stand up for their security, they won't stand alone. And so, therefore, they know, for instance, that there is going to be sufficient resources from the U.S. and international community for their security forces after 2014. They need to know that there's going to be continued equipping of their security forces, because there's simply no way that they could do that, for instance, on their own as soon as 2015.
So we know that we have an interest in an enduring partnership. We also know we have an interest in Afghans having full sovereignty and full ownership over the affairs of their country. And so, how we balance and achieve those objectives -- Afghan sovereignty, Afghanistan is fully responsible for its security, denial of a safe haven to al Qaeda -- those are the guiding factors for the BSA negotiations. And, again, we'll look at a range of options for how we might achieve that. Some of those options would include different levels of U.S. troops.
But, again, it is not an objective in and of itself to have a certain number of troops.
GENERAL LUTE: The only thing I would add is that the key variables here in terms of where we will end up in post-2014 are the strength and resilience of al Qaeda, the development of Afghan capacity, and the authorities we were granted. So we're working on all of those.
The campaign against al Qaeda continues. We have two years between now and the end of 2014. We've made a lot of progress against al Qaeda, but the job is not done. So that remains a variable.
The Afghan National Security Forces are a work in progress. Again, we've made a lot of progress over the last three or four years, but they're not -- that's not a completed task. So how much more progress do we make in the next two years -- that will be a key variable in terms of where we end up in 2015.
And then, finally, the authorities granted. As we know from our Iraq experience, if there are no authorities granted by the sovereign state, then there is not room for a follow on a U.S. military mission.
So there are a lot of variables in play. We're working on all of them. And one of the key things we want to do is consult with our Afghan partners this week.