Obama (Slightly) Speeds Up Afghan Transition

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 11 2013 3:44 PM

Obama (Slightly) Speeds Up Afghanistan Military Transition

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President Obama listens as Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a joint press conference at the White House

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan will be moving into a "support role" in the spring, a few months earlier than initially scheduled, President Obama announced on Friday after meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the White House. That means the Western troops will focus on advising and training while Afghan troops will take the lead in security across the country. That shift had been scheduled to take place over the summer in advance of the withdrawal of most American troops by the end of 2014, notes the Associated Press. Obama did not say whether the “historic moment” of handing control over security to Afghan forces would mean U.S. troops would leave the country more quickly than expected, saying only that he has asked commanders on the ground to issue their recommendations and he will reveal drawdown plans over the next few months.

“It doesn’t mean the coalition forces, including the U.S. forces, will no longer be fighting,” Obama said. “They will still be fighting, but it will mean Afghans will take the lead, and our presence, the nature of our work, will be a training, assisting, advising role.”

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Obama made it clear he would consider withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan at the end of next year if Kabul doesn’t grant immunity to U.S. troops, reports Politico, pointing out that at one point Obama said “should we have troops in Afghanistan post-2014 at the invitation of the Afghan government.” Karzai said he would push for that immunity, particularly considering that Obama had agreed to two of his key demands of transfering control of detention centers to Afganistan as well as withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghan villages, reports the New York Times.

“With those issues resolved, as we did today, I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised,” Karzai said.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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