Mr. Karzai, who has been in Washington since Tuesday meeting with administration officials and congressional leaders, underscored successful outcomes on two priorities he had set for his US visit: Foreign troops will soon be largely out of Afghan villages – a sore spot for many rural Afghans – now that Afghans are taking the lead in military operations, and Afghan authorities will soon assume control of Afghan detainees and detention facilities.
Karzai said resolution of those two sensitive issues allows him to make the case to the Afghan people concerning the US conditions for keeping its forces in Afghanistan after NATO departs in 2014 – including full legal immunity from Afghan prosecution for US forces remaining in the country.
Obama gave no hint of the number of troops he is inclined to leave in Afghanistan after 2014, but he described their eventual mission in limited terms, saying any long-term American force would focus on two core goals: training Afghan forces, and carrying out counterterrorism operations aimed at “Al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
“That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint we’ve had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan,” Obama said. Administration officials say a White House debate on any residual force in Afghanistan has shifted over recent weeks toward the lower end of a range of between 2,500 and 10,000 troops – already lower than the 6,000-to-20,000 range the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, has proposed.
The lowest White House numbers are also well below the size of a US force that Karzai was expecting to see remain in his country, according to former US diplomats and military officials who have recently been to Afghanistan.