WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Friday discussed plans to vastly reduce — if not entirely end — the American troop presence in Afghanistan by 2014, the White House said.
Obama and Karzai held three meetings Friday, the final day of Karzai's trip to the United States, to continue negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement, which would establish the long-term military relationship between the United States and Afghanistan as the war draws to a close.
"The reason we went to war in the first place is now within reach," Obama said of denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan and announcing that in the coming months Afghan forces will take over responsibility security for their country.
"Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces," Obama said.
"In spring this year, the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people," Karzai added.
And top Obama advisers reaffirmed Wednesday that there would be no U.S. effort to secure Afghanistan after 2014, and that efforts after that date would pertain to keeping al Qaeda from retrenching.
"We have two missions that we'd be focused on: training and equipping those security forces of Afghanistan, and we'll be carrying out that mission in counterterrorism, particularly focused on al Qaeda and their affiliates," Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters.
Asked whether the 11-year Afghanistan war was worth it, Obama invoked the attacks of September 11, 2001 to assert that it was, but acknowledged that some of the more rosy objectives were misguided.
"Have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving under the best of scenarios — probably not," Obama said.
"But did we achieve our central goal," Obama said of "decapacitating" and denying al Qaeda a safe haven, "We have achieved that goal — we are in the process of achieving that goal."
Obama stated that a precondition for U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 is an agreement that grants them immunity from local prosecution, something Karzai said was easier now that Obama has pledged to turn over prisons and detainees to Afghanistan authorities.
The presidents released a joint statement after the meetings:
President Obama and President Karzai committed to conclude the Bilateral Security Agreement as soon as possible, reaffirming that such an agreement is in both countries' interest. They discussed the possibility of a post-2014 U.S. presence that is sustainable, that supports a capable and effective Afghan National Security Force, and that continues to pressure the remnants of al-Qa'ida and its affiliates. The scope and nature of any possible post-2014 U.S. presence, legal protections for U.S. forces, and security cooperation between the two countries is to be specified in the Bilateral Security Agreement. The U.S. reaffirmed that it does not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan.