Barack Obama may slow Afghan withdrawal

US has indicated flexibility in its troop drawdown schedule from war-torn Afghanistan to help it fight the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

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Ahead of the crucial talks between President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani, the US has indicated flexibility in its troop drawdown schedule from war-torn Afghanistan to help it fight the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

“President Obama and President Ghani have had regular discussions about the transition that is taking place in Afghanistan. President Ghani has requested some flexibility in that process, and it’s our understanding “it’s our knowledge that President Obama is actively considering that request,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Ghani has asked Obama to consider some flexibility as part of his government’s emerging national security strategy.

“Those discussions remain ongoing and those will really be the focus of the discussions tomorrow with President Obama in the White House,” Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Ghani, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter.

Responding to questions, Ghani too left the final decision on Obama.

“The question on numbers is a decision for the President of the United States, and that decision will solely be made by President Obama,” he said at the end of the day-long talks with the US leadership at Camp David, the presidential retreat.

“What we have emphasised and agreed is that we are strategic partners; we are bound by common interests and will act together to ensure both the safety of United States and the safety of Afghanistan. That is the important consideration,” Ghani said.

“Numbers are a means; they are not an end in themselves. So we are not going to get involved in any discussion of numbers. That’s a field for experts, and we defer to the judgement of those experts such as General Campbell and the very able group of the national security team of the United States,” he added.

Almost all US troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of next year, but there are new worries that the country could fall into deep instability without the presence of US troops.

According to a defence official, Instead of drawing down the 10,000 US troops now in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of this year, Obama will allow most of those troops to remain through 2015.

Ghani and Abdullah are currently on a five-day US visit. The Afghan delegation arrived on Sunday. They would meet Obama at the White House today. Ghani would address a joint session of the US Congress tomorrow.

Defence Secretary Carter said that Pentagon will seek Congressional approval to fund sustenance of 352,000 Afghan troops through the year 2017.

“Today we can announce that the Defence Department intends to seek funding for Afghan forces to sustain an end strength of 352,000 personnel through 2017,” he said, adding that this is part of unwavering commitment to a strong and enduring strategic partnership with Afghanistan.

After the Camp David talks, Kerry announced the launch of a USD 800 million New Development Partnership with Afghanistan and re-launch of ministerial-level Bilateral Commission and the Security Consultative Forum, as part of the effort to give a new shape and direction to the Afghan-US relationship in the aftermath of the complete security transition.

“The depth of our discussions today reflect the critical nature of this moment, with Afghanistan’s government of national unity now fully responsible for the security of its people and moving ahead on a reform agenda of its own design,” he said.

“At the centre of our bilateral relationship is a shared commitment to security and peace and a desire to promote prosperity and social progress throughout Afghanistan. These goals are outlined in the 2012 enduring strategic partnership agreement between our governments, the implementation of which is being tracked by the bilateral commission,” he said.

Kerry said later this year he will be travelling to Kabul to join Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani in hosting a meeting of the bilateral commission, which will be the first such meeting since 2013.

The creation of a New Development Partnership is aligned with the unity government’s reform agenda, he said.

This initiative reflects the strategic importance of the US-Afghan relationship and it recognises a new era of cooperation between the two governments, he said.

On peace efforts, Kerry said the United States believe that the surest way to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region is for reconciliation to take place.

Kerry said there are three conditions for peace talks with the Taliban.

“The Taliban needs to give up violence; they need to sever any ties to any terrorist organisation; and they need to support the constitution of Afghanistan,” he said.

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First published on: 24-03-2015 at 13:03 IST