Dempsey to explain Afghan “zero option” at NATO

When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey faces 60 other defense chiefs from NATO and its partner nations next week in Brussels, he’ll likely have to answer for one new development: the "zero option." White House national security staffers, to much surprise, floated to the press this week that they had requested, ...

Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images
Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images
Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey faces 60 other defense chiefs from NATO and its partner nations next week in Brussels, he'll likely have to answer for one new development: the "zero option."

White House national security staffers, to much surprise, floated to the press this week that they had requested, and the Pentagon delivered, plans for leaving no U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan after 2014. It was a far cry from the pledges that President Barack Obama asked NATO allies to make at the Chicago summit last May, and on which foreign defense chiefs largely delivered with pledges of thousands of troops and billions of dollars for years to come in Afghanistan.  

"They didn't know," the zero option was coming, a senior defense official tells the E-Ring. Now Dempsey expects that issue will the main concern for military leaders at the usually un-newsworthy event.

When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey faces 60 other defense chiefs from NATO and its partner nations next week in Brussels, he’ll likely have to answer for one new development: the "zero option."

White House national security staffers, to much surprise, floated to the press this week that they had requested, and the Pentagon delivered, plans for leaving no U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan after 2014. It was a far cry from the pledges that President Barack Obama asked NATO allies to make at the Chicago summit last May, and on which foreign defense chiefs largely delivered with pledges of thousands of troops and billions of dollars for years to come in Afghanistan.  

"They didn’t know," the zero option was coming, a senior defense official tells the E-Ring. Now Dempsey expects that issue will the main concern for military leaders at the usually un-newsworthy event.

In Europe, Pentagon officials believe that political leaders may like the idea of getting out of Afghanistan, a wholly unpopular war. But military leaders are seen as more committed to continuing their mission at some level, so as not to lose what was gained. They’ve also undoubtedly expended political capital convincing their elected heads of state to stick with the United States.

Dempsey, on Thursday in the Pentagon, said he gave the option to the White House staff but has not yet presented it or discussed it with the president, so would not comment further.

"You know, we’ve said, I think, from the start that no option is entirely off the table. It’ll depend on the conditions."

As outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ambles through his final overseas trip next week through some of Europe’s finest capitals, Dempsey will attend the two-day winter conference with the chiefs of defense (known as CHODs) starting Wednesday. Gen. John Allen, commander of International Security Assitance Force, also will be in Brussels to brief the NATO chiefs. 

Other topics officially on the agenda include "a wide variety of alliance military issues including NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, counter-piracy, NATO-Russia military cooperation, and emerging security challenges facing the alliance," said Col. David Lapan, the chairman’s spokesman. 

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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