Obama, Karzai to discuss post-2014 engagement as White House mulls fewer troops


On the eve of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington on Monday, American officials said the White House was considering keeping a force of 3,000 to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
The US military presence in Afghanistan post-2014 will be one of the issues, President Barack Obama and Karzai will discuss during the Afghan leader’s visit from January 8 to 11. Washington and Kabul began talks in November on a possible agreement that would authorise an American troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014. The US force remaining in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal is expected to have several missions.
A report in The New York Times said the US force would include special operations forces, which would be assigned to carry out raids against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that are deemed to threaten American interests.
The White House options under consideration are smaller than the 6,000 to 20,000 troops Gen John R Allen, the American commander in Afghanistan, recently suggested. In addition, the troops would also advise and mentor the Afghan army and police in conjunction with forces from other NATO nations. According to the report, any American force that remains needs to be able to support itself logistically, to have the ability to carry out medical evacuations and to conduct airstrikes to protect any NATO troops that might be in danger.
“A White House decision to field a minimal force might add to the already formidable list of difficulties with Mr Karzai. The Afghan leader might see a minimal force as an indication that the United States is less interested in advising and training Afghan troops than in retaining the capability to carry out operations against terrorist groups,” said the report. The US is seeking immunity for its troops staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014 but Kabul has not decided on the sticking point yet.
Meanwhile, the White House also needs to decide how quickly to withdraw the 66,000 troops currently in Afghanistan and how many troops to keep there in 2013. In a Kabul-datelined report, The Washington Post said Karzai was bringing with him a litany of complaints including accusations that the United States has fomented corruption in Afghanistan and continues to violate the country’s sovereignty.
“The prospect of a diminished US presence in Afghanistan hasn’t dulled the tone of Karzai’s critique, even though he claims to want a long-term American security footprint here. That footprint would be welcomed, his advisers say, but only if it is accompanied by concessions on a number of seemingly intractable issues.” Karzai’s demands from the US include an end to approval of contracts with warlords, who according to his spokesman, “use the money for their own gains.” He also wants a full handover of the Parwan military prison. According the Kabul-datelined report, Karzai also wants a stronger Afghan air force, an end to US military operations in villages and a guarantee that his country will be protected from cross-border militant incursions. “As Karzai presses those demands, he and his advisers have extended their critique to the larger legacy in Afghanistan of the United States and NATO, which they say have failed to deliver security, despite billions spent,” the Post noted.
But a New York Times editorial dismissed Karzai’s requests for supply of updated American aircraft, surveillance equipment and longer-range artillery to modernise his army. “Those requests cannot be taken seriously when Afghan security forces are increasingly murdering Americans and the Afghan government remains so profoundly corrupt.”
During the visit, the US officials are expected to press Karzai on his commitment to improving transparency and governance — both conditions attached to $16 billion in aid approved last year at an international donors conference in Tokyo. The State Department last week said a full range of issues would likely come up for discussion during President Karzai’s meetings between January 8 and 11.