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During a Friday news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Obama said that beginning in the spring, the US will play a minimal role in Afghanistan.
The New York Times reports that the press conference at which Obama delivered his statement was the first time Obama and Karzai have met since last May.
The White House has indicated its desire to speed up the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The original timeline had spring of 2014 as the date to meet, but due to “gains by Afghan forces”, the timeline has been pushed forward.
The US is slated to remove most of its forces from Afghanistan after the NATO mandate ends in 2014. The forces that remain in the country past that date will be reserved mainly for the training of Afghan troops.
This quick drawdown is the opposite of what senior American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, recommends. He wants to maintain a significant American military presence in Afghanistan through the coming fall.
Experts worry that the withdrawal will leave Afghan forces unable to fight the remaining militant forces in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. The New York Times also cites a Pentagon report that states only one out of the 23 Afghan National Army brigades was capable of operating independently of support from US or NATO.
The Washington Post quotes Obama as saying, “We achieved our central goal, or have come very close to achieving our central goal, which is to decapacitate al-Qaeda, to dismantle them, to make sure that they can’t attack us again. At the end of this conflict, we are going to be able to say that the sacrifices that were made by those men and women in uniform has brought about the goal that we sought.”
Karzai appears content with the drawdown of Western forces and has even persuaded his allies to transfer US-held prisoners of terrorism to Afghan control. Much to American chagrin, many of the prisoners were released in recent weeks.