That number represents the midpoint of initial recommendations by the top Western commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. John Allen, and would require a bilateral agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
That agreement could be hard to reach. Karzai would be open to such a deal, Afghan officials say, but he would require that U.S. troops fall under the jurisdiction of Afghan courts. A similar requirement by Iraq was rejected by the United States, resulting in the pullout of all U.S. forces.
Even if such a deal could be reached, the exact number of troops that would stay is still unsettled. Allen's preliminary figures put the number of troops as low as 6,000 and as high as 15,000. Obama administration officials want the smallest possible force to satisfy both Americans and Afghans, and to put less stress on the military.
Outside analysts say as many as 30,000 could be needed to continue training Afghan troops and maintain political stability in the country.
Currently, some 66,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan.