US President Barack Obama addresses a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2013. – Photo by Reuters

WASHINGTON: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said Friday that he would stand down at the end of his second term in 2014 and allow a successor to be freely elected.

“The greatest of my achievements eventually, seen by the Afghan people, will be a proper, well-organized, interference-free election in which the Afghan people can elect their next president,” he said.

“And certainly I will be a retired president, and very happily a retired president,” he vowed, in response to a question about the 2014 vote at a joint White House press conference with US President Barack Obama.

Karzai was elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2009, in two votes marred by allegations of widespread electoral fraud and held against the backdrop of an ongoing war between Nato-backed government forces and Taliban guerrillas.

Both the leaders agreed that American forces would hand the lead in the fight against the Taliban to Afghan forces in the next few months.

“Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission -- training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty,” said President Obama.

He said US forces would “still be in harm's way” in Afghanistan after the handover, at least until 2014, but would take a backseat to Afghan forces in offensive operations and the drawdown would come a little quicker than planned.

“Because of the progress that has been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat,” Obama said.

Karzai agreed, saying: “I'm very happy to hear from the president as we also discussed earlier that in spring this year, the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people.

“And that the international forces, the American forces, will be no longer present in the villages, that it will be the task of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection.”

The presence of US troops in a training and support role after 2014 would depend on the United States negotiating a security agreement with Afghanistan that would give them protection from Afghan law.

“And if we have a follow-on force of any sort, past 2014, it has got to be at the invitation of the Afghan government and they have to feel comfortable with it,” Obama told the White House news conference.

“I will say and I've said to President Karzai that we have arrangements like this with countries all around the world. And nowhere do we have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops.”


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