WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama reiterated the U.S. plan for an accelerated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday.
American troops will serve in training and advisory roles to Afghan forces beginning in the spring, but will continue the drawdown of the 66,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in the region.
Obama noted that he and Karzai agreed at their meeting at the NATO Summit in Chicago in May of last year that “Afghan forces will take the lead for security in mid-2013.”
Karzai said that one of his main goals is to have a corruption-free, democratic election for the Afghan people.
“Certainly, I would be a retired president, and very happily, a retired president,” Karzai said.
Karzai’s government has been plagued with corruption scandals including problems with the financial dealings of Kabul Bank, the country’s largest. In 2010, chairman Sherkhan Farnood was tied to New Ansari, a money-transfer firm responsible for funneling billions of dollars to Afghan insurgents and drug traffickers outside the country.
“There is corruption in the Afghan government that we are fighting against, employing various means and methods. We have succeeded in certain ways. But if your question is whether we are satisfied – or course not,” Karzai said.
Any remaining U.S troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 would work alongside Afghan forces to ensure that al-Qaida could not use the country as a base for attacks again. They will work in an advisory capacity, training and assisting Afghan forces to protect their own people.
“That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we’ve had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan,” Obama said.
The president would not say how many troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014. He plans to meet with Gen. John Allen and other “commanders on the ground” to determine a precise plan in the coming weeks. Last year, Allen sent a report to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recommending that anywhere from 6,000 to 20,000 troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
A successful bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan hinges on Afghanistan and Pakistan working diplomatically to fight extremism in the region.
“It’s very hard to imagine stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments and both capitals,” Obama said.
Obama and Karzai agreed to the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, where they hope to foster direct talks between representatives of the Afghan High Council for Peace and the Taliban.
Karzai said he plans to speak directly to the Afghan people about immunity for U.S. troops in the region.
This would be part of an official bilateral security agreement hashed out between Presidents Obama and Karzai for Afghanistan post-2014. The deal also entails the United States relinquishing control of U.S.-run detention facilities in Afghanistan and a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in Afghan villages.
Last year, the United States gave Kabul control of American detention facilities in the region, but kept control of Taliban fighters apprehended by U.S. forces. The retention of these detainees was part of a Pentagon decision, which would be reversed by the immunity deal.
Karzai said that the “complete return of detention centers and detainees to Afghan sovereignty” will begin as soon as he returns to the country.