Some big questions are looming over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week, including how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after most leave in 2014 and whether they will be immune from Afghan prosecution.
Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET: The two presidents announced at a Friday news conference that starting this spring, Afghan forces will take the lead in their country’s security. U.S. forces will continue fighting, but in an accompanying role.
The main role for U.S. forces will switch to advising, training and assisting the newly trained Afghan soldiers. That will allow the 2014 transition to happen and at that point, “The war will come to a responsible end,” said President Obama.
He said the objectives of the war have been reached: pushing out the Taliban and eliminating Afghanistan as a haven for al-Qaida to launch attacks on the United States.
“We went into Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were viciously murdered by a terrorist organization” that was openly operating at the invitation of the government in power at the time, said Mr. Obama.
“Have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios? Probably not. Did we achieve our central goal and have we been able to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is working with us to make sure it’s not a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States … I think we are achieving that goal.”
The two nations are working this year on drafting an overarching security agreement with two purposes: training and assisting Afghan forces, and targeted counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida and their affiliates, the president said.
When asked whether the agreement would include immunity of U.S. forces from Afghan prosecution, Mr. Obama said all U.S. security agreements with other countries contain such immunity and Afghanistan’s would be no different.
President Karzai said the assurances of Afghan sovereignty by the United States will help him make the case for U.S. immunity in his homeland.
In terms of Afghan sovereignty, he said his country will take complete control of detention centers soon after his return.
“In the spring, Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security to the Afghan people and the U.S. forces will no longer be present in Afghan villages,” he said.
Also, plans are underway to open an office for direct Afghan-Taliban talks in Qatar, with the involvement of relevant countries including Pakistan, said Karzai.
When asked if he was ready to hand over power after Afghan presidential and provincial council elections scheduled for April 5, 2014, Karzai said: “Certainly, I will be a retired president and a very happily retired president.”
Also on Friday, Karzai will speak at Georgetown University at 5:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the event and submit a question for the university to consider posing to Karzai on Georgetown’s Facebook page.
On Wednesday’s NewsHour, former Defense Department officials Bing West and Celeste Ward Gventer discussed the different troop level options post-2014 in Afghanistan:
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