Afghans step up as U.S. troops withdraw

The Obama administration‘s plan to withdraw some U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a welcome sign the country can start defending itself, President Hamid Karzai said in remarks aired on Sunday.”The number of troops that he announced will be withdrawn this year and the rest next year is a sign that Afghanistan is taking over its own security and trying to defend its territory by its own means, so we are happy with the announcement,” Karzai told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program in an interview.

“As for the number of troops, we have no opinion on that,” he added.

President Barack Obama unveiled a plan last week to remove 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and a total of 33,000 by the end of next summer, a pace some top military officials have said is too aggressive.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in congressional testimony that Obama’s drawdown was riskier than they recommended but that they backed the strategy to start winding down the nearly decade-old war.

Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday the planned drawdown appeared to be politically driven and could allow the Taliban to gain ground.

“The time line is just too darned close. … The fact that it lines up to have those troops out before the first (U.S. presidential) debate of 2012 is concerning to me mainly because the conditions on the ground have not changed,” Rogers said.


Karzai said information from local sources that he has received indicated “security in parts of the country has improved, that life is better now. Of course, not desirable, but better,” he said.

Military and civilian casualties hit record levels in 2010, the most violent year of the war since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the country’s Taliban government in late 2001.

This year is following a similar trend, with violence growing across Afghanistan since the Taliban announced a spring offensive at the beginning of May.

A suicide car bomber killed at least 20 people, and possibly as many as 35, in an attack at a hospital in a remote district of the eastern Logar province on Saturday that damaged the hospital’s maternity ward.

Karzai acknowledged to CNN that roadside explosives and suicide bombings persisted and were difficult to stop, but said they did not represent a major military threat.

“These are incidents, not attacks of the kind that would enable anybody to take a village or a road,” he said.

Karzai said his country’s High Council for Peace has made “initial contacts” with the Taliban about more formal talks on ending the conflict.

But he said the talks will not achieve results unless the United States, Pakistan and other allies apply all “means that they have” at their disposal.

“There are forces beyond the means of Afghanistan that are interfering in this process that have power over the process, and unless those forces begin to cooperate, the Taliban will not be able to come forward … as a group, as a unified structure,” Karzai said.

Pakistan is extremely important for a quick solution,” he added in a reference to what U.S. and Afghan officials believe are close Pakistani connections to and influence over some Taliban factions.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – By Paul Eckert(Additional reporting by John Crawley)


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