Wednesday, January 9

US Troop levels in question in Afghanistan - Karzai to visit Pentagon, State Department and White House

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President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to the White House

President Obama will be hosting President Hamid Karzai and his delegation at the White House for bilateral meetings on Friday, January 11. 

The White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement, "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."

Afghanistan President Karzai is expected to press for the American military presence to continue beyond the NATO withdrawal of forces scheduled for 2014. 

In 2010 the US and NATO agreed to draw down and remove combat forces from region in by the close of 2014. Three Quarters of the nation is already under the military control of the Afghanistan military as the regions have been turned over through the past few months from NATO and US control.

The Karzai administration has an interest in keeping the US forces in place beyond the 2014 planned exit. Afghanistan is concerned that withdrawal of combat military will pull attention away from the embattled region. This may reduce the international aid that has been keeping the financially troubled nation funded. The vacuum caused by the reduction in foreign aid and the international troop withdrawal could cause fragmentation in the already troubled political system that makes up Afghanistan. 

The internal instability could then spread to the already unstable surrounding region of Pakistan.  The northwestern portion of Pakistan is already providing a safe haven for al-qaida forces in the region. In Afghanistan currently it is believed that less than 100 members are inside the boarders. Additional al-qaida forces are however just across the border in neighboring Pakistan. 

President Karzai has however made recent statements that the US military involvement in Afghanistan is destabilizing his country and government. With the Afghan elections not so far off in the future the political future of the region may be tied to the outcome of this set of meetings. The outcome of the elections may cause additional instability for the region as the Taliban still has a presence in Afghan politics and now has offices recognized by the Karzai administration.

Will military forces remain after the NATO and US combat forces withdraw? 

The Pentagon feels that the US should maintain a strong presence beyond the NATO withdrawal of troops in an effort to retain the gains made and promote stability in the region. 

The US currently has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan. That is over a one quarter reduction from the previous 100,000 troops who were in country in 2010. 

The Obama administration is said to be considering several options for US troops in the region.

A counter-terrorism tactical team and support troops could remain in the region according to recent statements by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. 

Other options that have been mentioned by the administration members include troop commitments ranging from 0 to 15,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan in non-combat roles beyond the 2014 withdrawal.

President Karzai will be visiting with Leon Panetta on Thursday. He is also expected to meet with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Thursday in an effort to lay the groundwork for the meeting on Friday with President Obama. 

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