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Obama-Karzai talks near: How many US troops should stay in Afghanistan?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be in Washington next week to meet with President Obama. Top of the agenda: deciding whether US troops should stay beyond 2014 – and how many.

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President Obama (l.) and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai during their joint news conference at the White House in Washington in this 2010 file photo. Karzai will be in Washington next week to meet with President Obama.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File

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With Afghan President Hamid Karzai set to arrive for a meeting at the White House next week, the Obama administration is considering three options for how many troops it wants to leave in the country after NATO ends its mission in 2014.

President Obama and Mr. Karzai could make significant headway toward that decision as well as others, such as the pace of the US drawdown between now and 2014 and the sort of military hardware Afghanistan would like from the US. But approval of any Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, to keep US troops in the country remains contingent upon Karzai granting US forces immunity from local prosecution.

It was largely the question of immunity that derailed Mr. Obama’s plan to keep 3,000 US troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 withdrawal date.

The size of a residual force for Afghanistan is likely to be larger – and potentially considerably larger – than the 3,000-strong force Obama envisioned for Iraq.

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