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An Army carry team handled the remains of Army Pvt. Errol D. Milliard of Birmingham, Ala., upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Saturday.

Jose Luis Magana • Associated Press,

U.S. considers faster pullout in Afghanistan

  • Article by: MARK MAZZETTI and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
  • New York Times
  • July 8, 2013 - 11:27 PM

 

Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is considering speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan — a “zero option” that would leave no U.S. troops there after next year, according to U.S. and European officials.

Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after a U.S. effort last month to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Karzai repudiated the talks and ended negotiations with the United States over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

A videoconference between Obama and Karzai designed to defuse tensions ended badly, U.S. and Afghan officials with knowledge of the conversation said. Karzai, those sources said, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with the Taliban and its backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.

Karzai has made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Karzai’s government, the officials said.

The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 gained momentum before the June 27 videoconference, the officials said. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit similar to the U.S. military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.

The officials cautioned that no decisions had been made on the pace of the pullout and exactly how many U.S. troops to leave behind in Afghanistan. The goal remains negotiating a long-term security deal, they said, but the hardening of negotiating stances on both sides could result in a repeat of what happened in Iraq, where a deal failed to materialize despite widespread expectations that a compromise would be reached and U.S. forces would remain.

“There’s always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option,” said a senior Western official in Kabul. “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 official, however, said he hoped that some in the Karzai government were beginning to understand that the zero option was now a distinct possibility and that “they’re learning now, not later, when it’s going to be too late.”

The Obama administration’s internal deliberations about the future of the Afghan war were described by officials in Washington and Kabul who hold a range of views on how quickly the United States should leave Afghanistan and how many troops it should leave behind.

Spokesmen for the White House and Pentagon declined to comment.

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