Conflict & Justice

Karzai, Obama to meet on Friday, discuss US troop levels


(L to R) Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. President Barack Obama and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari walk along the Colonnade after a meeting at the White House May 6, 2009 in Washington, DC. .


Pete Souza

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama will meet in Washington for talks on Friday in what could set a new framework for US involvement in Afghanistan.

"President Obama will host President Hamid Karzai and his delegation at the White House for bilateral meetings on Friday, January 11," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Monday night.

Carney added, "President Obama looks forward to welcoming the Afghan delegation to Washington, and discussing our continued transition in Afghanistan, and our shared vision of an enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan."

The number of troops to remain in country after the official US exit will be discussed, as well as potential peace negotiations with Taliban insurgents, Reuters reports.

The Christian Science Monitor noted that Gen. John Allen sent Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this week three scenarios that would require between 6,000 and 20,000 US troops to stay in Afghanistan. There are currently about 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

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However, later Tuesday, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that there are no magic numbers for the US.

It was the first indication that the Obama administration might consider full withdrawal after the UN mission ends.

"The US does not have an inherent objective of 'X' number of troops in Afghanistan," Rhodes said, according to The Associated Press.

"We have an objective of making sure there is no safe haven for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and making sure that the Afghan government has a security force that is sufficient to ensure the stability of the Afghan government." 

Asked if that meant zero troops, Rhodes said "that would be an option that we would consider," Reuters reported.

Observers say bringing everyone home might compromise the US in the future.

Jeffrey Dressler, from the Institute for the Study of War, told Reuters that he's unsure if this is a bargaining tactic ahead of Friday's meeting.

"I don't see how zero troops is in the national security interest of the United States," he said.

Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan and Pakistan programs at the United States Institute of Peace, told NPR that Friday's meeting was very significant.

"Sometimes you have presidents meet once it comes time to sign an agreement, but this one comes at a time when some very important agreements and policies are being negotiated and are very much in flux," he said.

NBC News reports:

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