WASHINGTON, Jan 9: The United States has hinted at the possibility of withdrawing all its troops from Afghanistan by 2014 and has also emphasised Pakistan’s role in bringing stability to the war-ravaged country.
“We very much support a Pakistani role, because there has to be a regional buy into the future of stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and South Asia,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told abriefing in Washington.
“While we don't imagine that either the United States or Pakistan are going to control this peace process, we both have important supporting roles to play”, said White House Coordinator for South Asia Gen. Doug Lute.
Responding to a question about the presence of alleged terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, he noted that some of the terrorists hiding in these places launched attacks against the Pakistani state itself.
While the US continued to urge Pakistan to take military actions against the terrorists, it believed that dealing with this issue with “political means” would be “more promising”, he said.
This would include the Americans, the Afghans, and the Pakistanis “working together to try to craft a political process that defeats these safe havens and brings the Afghan Taliban back into the political fold” in Afghanistan, said Gen. Lute.
“That’s what the Afghan-led peace process is all about. It’s about making irrelevant the safe havens in Pakistan.”
Mr Rhodes said that leaving no troops after 2014 “would be an option that we would consider”, adding that “the president does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping US troops in Afghanistan.”
He was referring to US President Barack Obama’s talks with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai who arrived in Washington on Monday for a weeklong visit.
US officials had told reporters earlier this week that the two presidents might finalise a post-2014 arrangement in that meting at the White House on Friday. The deal will also determine the number of troops that the United States can keep in Afghanistan after 2014.
While Mr Rhodes confirmed that the United States was discussing a post-2014 arrangement with Afghanistan, he said a deal was not possible during Mr Karzai’s visit.
“We are not going to be partnering with Afghan security forces in securing Afghanistan after 2014. Our combat mission will be over”, said the US official when asked to define future US military missions in Afghanistan.
Mr Rhodes said the timeline set by the US and Afghan governments to reach an agreement for a post-2014 bilateral security agreement would be November at the latest.
“As those negotiations proceed, we'll have a better idea about the type of post-2014 presence that we may or may not have in Afghanistan,” he said.
“It can therefore influence our planning as to how we get from where we are today in Afghanistan at this midpoint in the transition to the end of the transition by the end of 2014.”
The main US objective, he said, was to make sure there's no safe haven for Qaeda within Afghanistan and that the Afghan government had a security force that was capable of bringing stability to the country.
The United States also is seeking legal protection for any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
While Mr Karzai wants US troops to remain after 2014, he has not yet said if he would accept Washington’s demand for granting immunity to its soldiers.
Commenting on Mr Rhodes statement that Washington might withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by 2014, The New York Times noted: “It is difficult to conceive of how the United States might achieve even its limited post-2014 goals in Afghanistan without any kind of troop presence.”
The statement “suggests the White House is staking out a negotiating position with both the Pentagon and with Mr Karzai, as he and Mr Obama begin to work out an agreement covering the post-2014 American role in Afghanistan.”
Recent US media reports indicate that the Pentagon wants to keep 20,000 to 30,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 as well.