US mulls speeding up withdrawal from Afghanistan

Updated: 2013-07-09 10:45


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WASHINGTON - The United States is considering speeding up its planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, including a possible "zero option" that would result in no US forces in that country after 2014, the New York Times reported on Monday.

Citing US and European officials, the Times reported that President Barack Obama has become increasingly frustrated by his dealings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with their fraying relationship falling to new depths after last month's US move to open peace talks with the Taliban.

A June 27 video conference between Obama and Karzai aimed at lowering tensions ended poorly, the Times reported on its website, citing US and Afghan officials with knowledge of the conversation.

The Times reported that Karzai accused the United States of trying to forge a separate peace with the Taliban and its Pakistani supporters in an arrangement that would expose Karzai's government to its enemies.

Obama is committed to wrapping up US military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the United States has been talking with officials in Afghanistan about keeping a small "residual" force there after next year.

Since the video conference, a full military pullout from Afghanistan like the one from Iraq has been transformed from a "worst-case scenario" to an option "under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul," the Times reported.

The officials quoted by the Times said no decisions have been made on the pace and scale of the withdrawal.

The United States also had planned on keeping a small force in Iraq after the broad troop withdrawal from that country, but talks with Iraqi leaders failed to yield such a deal.

A senior Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: "All options remain on the table but a decision is far from made."

"There's always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option," the Times quoted a senior Western official in Kabul as saying. "It is now becoming one of them, and if you listen to some people in Washington, it is maybe now being seen as a realistic path."

The number of US troops in Afghanistan - now around 63,000 - already is set to decline to 34,000 by next February, the Times noted. The White House has said the great majority of American forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.