Security outlook bleak in Afghanistan

Updated: 2013-01-10 07:15

By Wang Hui (China Daily)

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The start of the year has brought the withdrawal of US-led international troops from Afghanistan one step closer. This year will be pivotal, as it becomes ever more pressing to shore up the security situation in the Central Asian country and arrange the details of the transition that leads up to next year's withdrawal.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is paying a visit to the United States this week, and he is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama on Friday. They are expected to discuss how many US troops will stay in Afghanistan after 2014, which is a question of wide concern.

The Obama administration is committed to withdrawing the majority of its 68,000-strong military presence in the country. In fact, the administration gave the first explicit signal on Tuesday that it might leave no troops in Afghanistan after December 2014, which is a major departure from the Pentagon's view that thousands of troops may still be needed to deter al-Qaida and to strengthen Afghan forces. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Pentagon has prepared plans for a "residual" presence of up to 9,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

There has been some speculation that Karzai's trip will yield results in the inking of a long-term security partnership between the two countries.

Talks between the two sides on the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement began two months ago. The agreement would guarantee the presence of the US military in Afghanistan for at least several years after 2014 and grant US economic and military aid to the country. However, the proposed deal has met with strong opposition both within Afghanistan and from some of its neighbors.

The US-led NATO coalition, which has been fighting the Taliban since 2001, cut troop numbers by about 30,000 in 2012. There are now about 100,000 international forces still in the Central Asian country from 50 contributing countries. Although in December, the British media reported that the country, which has the second-largest number of troops in Afghanistan, could cut its forces in the country from 9,000 to just 5,200 by the end of this year.

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