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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.
The two leaders did not mention Pakistan in a joint statement they issued. But the statement, in a section on the “regional environment,” underscored “the important role of the region in supporting Afghanistan’s progress toward stability and prosperity.” In that phrase, “the region” is largely a stand-in for Pakistan, which allows its territory along the Afghan border to provide refuge to both the Taliban and the Al Qaeda leadership – and which both countries see as key to Afghanistan’s prospects for emerging from a decade of conflict.
Beyond that, the US is acknowledging that it has its sights set on Pakistan when it says that one of the two objectives of a residual US force in Afghanistan would be to keep up the fight against Al Qaeda, since Al Qaeda is across the border in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Karzai’s visit coincided with a sharp uptick in US drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan.
At the press conference, Obama did address the existence of “safe havens” for terrorists in Pakistan, noting that everyone, including the Pakistanis, have an interest in “reducing extremism in the border areas.”
Asserting that Afghanistan and Pakistan face common challenges and, as neighbors, a common future, Obama said it is “very hard to imagine stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments and both capitals.”
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