US plays down Karzai's comments on withdrawal
US defence officials today sought to play down calls by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for American forces to withdraw from village outposts, saying Kabul had not requested any change in an agreed timetable for a gradual troop drawdown.world Updated: Mar 15, 2012 23:09 IST
US defence officials on Thursday sought to play down calls by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for American forces to withdraw from village outposts, saying Kabul had not requested any change in an agreed timetable for a gradual troop drawdown.
A US official accompanying defence secretary Leon Panetta, who arrived in Abu Dhabi after a visit to Afghanistan, told reporters the Afghan government has agreed with Nato on a schedule for security transition through 2014 and that had not changed.
"Right now there's no reason to think that schedule should change and President Karzai did not ask for any change in the current schedule" in talks earlier Thursday with Panetta, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Panetta's spokesman George Little said the Pentagon chief and Karzai had a "very positive" meeting and that the "issue of villages" came up but in accordance with previously agreed plans laid out at a Nato summit last year in Lisbon.
In Kabul, the Afghan president demanded US troops leave village outposts, just days after an American soldier massacred 16 villagers, and also called for a transition of the nation's security from Nato control to the Afghan government in 2013 rather than the previous deadline of 2014.
But Little said Karzai's statement issued after Thursday's meeting was "consistent" with President Barack Obama's comments on Wednesday that reaffirmed plans for Nato-led forces to hand off to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
"We don't believe there's a great deal of daylight between the government of Afghanistan and the United States," Little said.
"The secretary (Panetta) believes that the United States and Afghanistan are on the same page with respect to the strategy."
The United States and its Nato allies shared Karzai's desire to see the Afghan government assume full responsibility for the country's security as soon as possible, and the transition is already well underway, he said.
Karzai has often made public comments that have taken the United States and Nato officials by surprise and seemingly strayed from agreed policies.
The reaction of US officials Thursday strongly suggested that Washington hoped Karzai's statement was aimed at a domestic audience for political purposes and did not represent a genuine shift.