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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

US troops may stay past 2014 in Afghanistan

It was said in an interview published Wednesday that American troops could stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the latest signal of a possible open-ended US military role in the country. General John Allen told the New York Times that negotiations with Afghan officials on a strategic partnership would "almost certainly" feature "a discussion with Afghanistan of what a post-2014 force will look like." Afghan President Hamid Karzai had "in fact, just the other day talked about his desire to have conversations with the US about a post-2014 force," Allen was quoted as saying. "We would probably see some number of advisers, trainers, intelligence specialists here for some period of time beyond 2014," the commander said. Allen, who oversees the NATO-led force in the 10-year-old war, is the highest-ranking military officer to openly suggest the possibility of American forces remaining beyond 2014. President Barack Obama s administration has suggested combat troops would depart by the end of 2014 but left the door open to a residual force remaining on the ground. The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, said earlier this month that Washington would be ready to keep forces in Afghanistan if the Kabul government requested it. With the United States now engaged in a gradual troop drawdown, Karzai said Sunday his government is negotiating the terms of a long-term US presence in the country that could involve American troops. US-led troops, which toppled the Taliban in a 2001 invasion, have been battling the hardline Islamist insurgency for ten years and are due to hand over security duties to Afghan government forces by 2015. The United States is withdrawing 10,000 troops this year, leaving 91,000 on the ground into next year. Another 23,000 are due to leave by the end of September. Former Afghan officials and analysts have warned the country likely will slide into a civil war, with rivals India and Pakistan clashing through proxies, if US and allied forces withdraw at the end of 2014. In Iraq, US and Iraqi leaders could not agree on the terms for a future US force and the withdrawal of American troops has been accompanied by sectarian political turmoil.

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