KABUL after next year, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The New York Times (NYT) quoted American and European officials as saying that Obama was reconsidering the option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 before the June 27 video conference.
Since then, the idea of a complete military exit had gone from being considered the worst-case scenario, but a useful negotiating tool with Karzai, to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.
The videoconference, aimed to defuse the tensions, ended badly, American and unnamed Afghan officials, familiar with the conversation, told the newspaper. Karzai reported accused the US of trying to negotiate a separate peace with the Taliban.
Excessively frustrated by his dealings with Karzai, Obama pointed to the American lives that had been lost propping up the government in Kabul. But the US has not yet taken any decision on the pace of the pullout and strength of the residual force.
Although Washington still desires negotiating a long-term security deal with Kabul, the hardening of stances on both sides could impeded the pact. Talks on the agreement were suspended by Karzai in June after the opening of the Taliban office in Doha.
One Kabul-based Western official told the paper: “There’s always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option. 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 current number of American troops in Afghanistan is scheduled to fall from around 63,000 to 34,000 by February 2014. The White House has said the majority of troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of that year.
But the schedule, on the face of it, could accelerate to bring the bulk of the troops home by next summer.
“The guarantees sought by Afghanistan, if implemented, could possibly compel the United States to attack Taliban havens in Pakistan long after 2014, when the Obama administration has said it hoped to dial back the CIA’s covert drone war there.”
Additionally, Karzai has demanded the US specify the number of soldiers who will stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and make a multiyear financial commitment to Afghan security forces.