Kerry drops into Kabul to prod Karzai on US withdrawal deal
US officials are hopeful that Secretary of State John Kerry, who has a cordial relationship with President Karzai, can get stalled talks going again about US military involvement in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s unannounced meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul Friday had one chief purpose: to accelerate stalled security talks dealing with the timing and circumstances of the US withdrawal from a costly war that’s gone on for 12 years.Skip to next paragraph
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Washington wants to keep 5,000 to 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan beyond the Dec. 31, 2014, end of the NATO-led combat mission. Their purpose would be to train Afghan troops as well as to carry out counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions against Al Qaeda.
Without such an agreement, all US troops would pull out by the end of 2014 – the so-called “zero option.” (Of the 87,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan now, 52,000 are Americans.)
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President Obama told the Associated Press in an interview last week that he would consider keeping some American forces on the ground after the NATO combat mission formally ends next year, but acknowledged that doing so would require an agreement.
Obama suggested that if no agreement can be reached, he would be comfortable with a full pullout of US troops. This likely would lead to an early pullout of troops by other NATO countries, and it could threaten international aid.
The talks over the pact – a “bilateral security agreement” – have stalled over two points.
One is a US request to run independent counterterrorism missions on Afghan territory, which have long infuriated President Karzai. The Afghans instead want the United States to pass on information and let them handle the action.
The second sticking point is a US refusal to guarantee protection from foreign forces, which could lead to offensive action against another ally, neighboring Pakistan.