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Obama threatens Karzai with full US withdrawal

U.S. Military Prepares For Full Afghan Withdrawal

WASHINGTON (AP) - Frustrated with his Afghan counterpart, President Barack Obama is ordering the Pentagon to accelerate planning for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year. But Obama is also holding out hope that Afghanistan's next president may eventually sign a stalled security agreement that could prevent the U.S. from having to take that step.

Obama spoke Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the first direct conversation between the two leaders since last June. The White House has become increasingly frustrated with Karzai, who has refused to sign a security pact that the White House says is crucial to keeping a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes at the end of this year.

With no sign that Karzai will sign the agreement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "has tasked the Pentagon with preparing for the contingency that there will be no troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014." However, he added that the U.S. remains open to keeping troops in Afghanistan if an agreement can be signed later this year, likely after the April Afghan elections.

That decision appeared aimed at marginalizing Karzai's role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won't keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama's advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war ends. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday's developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama's call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, "I can't ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement."

"We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options," Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan's neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It's unclear whether Afghanistan's new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president's older brother; and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to decide on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon's biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter - although far more expensive - period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by midsummer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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prvrtbl1 February 26 2014 at 12:56 PM

what can one say its obama

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Raul February 26 2014 at 12:14 PM

it is time for our military troops to come home to their famaly now as the president has promised, and the money that is not spend in the Afghanistan war should be used for the need's of the american people were it is more needed.

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gerrygulb February 26 2014 at 12:14 PM

We now have a "professional" military. They are at the politicians mercy even more now than ever. If we had the draft, this war would have been over years ago. When everyone has a part, Moms & Dads of the rich kids drafted would have stopped it long ago. Why are we so silent and allow it to go on and on? The reason is only about 1% of the country is involved. Pull all the guys and gals out and protect our borders here at home but most importantly, stop giving money to this blood ******* Karzai.

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danielnva February 26 2014 at 12:15 PM

Oh no! Karzai must be terrified. If the Taliban acts up he might have to flee Afghanistan and live a life of luxury in Europe with all the loot he's piled up.

The troops should have been out of there years ago anyway.

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macuster2 February 26 2014 at 12:16 PM

It's about time Obama put his foot down with Karzai. Now it's also time (past time) for us to get out of there -- permanently and 100 percent.

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delciedear February 26 2014 at 12:17 PM

IMHO, I think we should put Karzai in his place and make him aware that we are not going to continue to do what he was supposed to be training his "military" to do. He walks around with his cape and unique hats trying to look regal and only fancies himself "a leader"......We have done enough........bring our soldiers home now and concentrate on protecting our own shores. The American people are getting tired of doing for ungrateful others. Time to do for ourselves and get this country back on track from the fallout of 9/11 and all that followed. Again, IMHO.

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napachiefs February 26 2014 at 12:17 PM

Blah Blah, just pull out them troops now, his brother is the biggest Drug Pusher:

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onebadcad February 26 2014 at 12:18 PM

How can anyone with a brain think we won anything in Iraq or Afghanistan. Lives have been lost on both sides for absolutely nothing. This was the predictable ending the day we invaded a sovereign nation with lies told around the world. Nothing has changed anywhere except the US is hated even more.

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allendniles onebadcad February 26 2014 at 12:39 PM

We won the war in Iraq and Obama lost the peace. Much the same with Afghan.

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bfgair February 26 2014 at 12:19 PM

Why are we there in the first place???? This is another war that "The Clown Bush" got us into for NO GOOD reason other than to make money for his friends. So WHY is Obama continuing to throw money at people that hate us and don't want us there in the first place? Russia learned their lesson there as did Naploeon, Alexander The Great and others why haven't we also learned the very same lesson? You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

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allendniles bfgair February 26 2014 at 12:37 PM

Afghan was the "right war" according to Obama. O annouced a surge and a pullout date, the latter a senseless tactical move. Now O is doing exactly what Karzai wants which is for the US to leave 100%. This will give O an excuse to leave in a huff with no resident US presence to more easily deter terrorists in Pakistan. A total loss for the US. O can now can blame Karzai -- blame is O's game when he fails.

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cza2129 February 26 2014 at 12:12 PM

ANYONE including Karzai who would see this as a threat and not what Obama has intended all along as he did in Iraq needs to have their head examined. Obama intends to turn victory in Iraq and Afghanistan into defeat, to render them both "meaningless" wars. he is shrinking our military in the belief that if we are weaker and less threatening we will be "liked" more by the rest of the world. This is a MISTAKE of epic proportions, by a president who has NO idea when it comes to foreign relations. I find it rather funny as well that Obama and the DEMS are cutting the military budget citing our debt and the need to cut, yet they are INCREASING domestic spending…they again are hoping that the uneducated low information voter won't catch them at it. More lies. They act as if 9/11 was some "isolated" incident, and that radical islam is NOT at war with the US, it is naive at best .

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