Obama and Karzai discuss post-2014 US role in Afghanistan
By Jonathan Easley - 01/11/13 01:27 PM ET
President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hope to finalize an agreement on how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan soon, the White House said in a statement Friday released just moments before the two will hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House.
Obama and Karzai met privately in the Oval Office earlier in the day, where the two "discussed the possibility of a post-2014 U.S. presence that is sustainable, that supports a capable and effective Afghan National Security Force, and that continues to pressure the remnants of al Qaeda and its affiliates," and said the "scope and nature" would be hammered out in a Bilateral Security Agreement "as soon as possible."
The White House and Afghan lawmakers have publicly clashed recently over a planned U.S. troop drawdown in 2014, when NATO troops will hand off security to the Afghan forces.
Some Obama administration officials raised the possibility that no U.S. troops would remain in the country after 2014. But there are questions about how ready the Afghan troops and police will be to operate on their own, and the comments provoked rebukes from some Afghan lawmakers, who argue a complete U.S. withdrawal would lead to a Taliban takeover and civil war.
In its statement the White House touted "recent improvements in Afghanistan’s security environment," saying it was "exceeding initial expectations."
There are presently 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Obama and Karzai signed an agreement last year that could allow the U.S. to maintain an unspecified number of troops in the country for special operations and training purposes through 2024.
Neither side expected the issue to be resolved during Karzai's trip to Washington. In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the two sides were merely hoping to "reach a common understanding of how we can achieve mutual objectives for the post-2014 relationship."
After their private meeting, Obama and Karzai were joined by Vice President Biden and members of Karzai's delegation for a bilateral meeting in the Cabinet Room. On Thursday, Karzai met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, both of whom will soon be leaving their posts in Obama's Cabinet.
The presidents also discussed the 2014 Afghan elections, the economic transition and the regional environment.
Obama and Karzai's relationship has been strained at times, with the White House alleging corruption within the Afghan government, and the Afghans fuming over civilian deaths linked to the U.S. military.
Karzai will address Georgetown University this afternoon in a speech on U.S.-Afghan relations.