US threatens troops pullout in Afghanistan

Updated: 2013-11-27 06:40

By Jessica Donati and Mark Felsenthal in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Washington (China Daily)

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, opening up the prospect of a complete withdrawal of US troops from the strife-torn nation next year.

Karzai told US National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the US must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai's spokesman said.

The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and "indicated he is not prepared to sign the deal promptly".

"Without a prompt signature, the US would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan," a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.

The complete withdrawal, called the "zero option", would be similar to the pull-out of US troops from Iraq two years ago.

On Sunday, an assembly of Afghan elders, known as the Loya Jirga, endorsed the security pact, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.

The impasse strengthens questions about whether any US and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency waged by Taliban militants and is still training its own military.

Karzai's defiance has surprised many who had attended the Loya Jirga, which he had proclaimed would have the final word on the security deal.

A senior politician in Kabul said it appeared that Karzai's reluctance to let the deal go through stemmed from his eagerness to keep his hands on the levers of power in the run-up to a presidential election in April, when he is due to stand down.

Residual force

"He is now in confrontation with his own nation as well as the US," said the politician, who asked not to be named.

He added that the president's demand for no US meddling in the coming election suggested that Karzai could be looking to ensure he has room to influence the outcome himself.

US threatens troops pullout in Afghanistan

US and other foreign troops have been in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban regime by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

Just over two years ago, US President Barack Obama pulled the plug on talks with Iraq about keeping a residual US force there after that war. In October 2011, when he announced that decision, there were more than 40,000 troops in the country. By the end of the year, they had all been withdrawn.

In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The US has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.

US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have said the bilateral security deal with Afghanistan must be signed by year-end if preparations are to be made for a post-2014 presence.

Rice, who made a three-day visit to Afghanistan to visit US troops, told Karzai it was "not viable" to defer signing the deal until after the election, the White House said.

The delay "would not provide the US and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence", the White House said.

Karzai's conditions

Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a US pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes.

The Bilateral Security Agreement includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances - when a US life is directly under threat - but it would not take effect until 2015.

This issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war between Afghan and foreign forces and Taliban militants.

"It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by US forces and Afghans want to see this practically," Faizi said.

(China Daily 11/27/2013 page11)