Afghan leader Karzai heads to US for talks
By ALEXANDRA ZAVIS AND HASHMAT BAKTASH | Los Angeles Times | Published: January 7, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai left Monday for Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama and other top officials that will help shape relations after most U.S. and international troops leave the strife-torn country.
The talks come as Obama is weighing how quickly to withdraw about 66,000 troops and whether to maintain a residual force after the NATO combat mission ends, scheduled for 2014. Remaining troops would continue advising Afghan troops and attack any remnants of al-Qaida.
Karzai, meanwhile, wants to ensure that crucial military and financial aid doesn’t dry up when the foreign troops go home.
In May, the two leaders signed a strategic partnership agreement that pledged continued American support for Afghanistan for 10 years beyond 2014 but did not specify the U.S. security role or what civilian assistance would be provided.
Karzai has expressed support for a continued U.S. footprint in Afghanistan, but contentious issues must still be ironed out. They include the question of immunity from Afghan prosecution for U.S. troops accused of committing crimes here, an issue that could not be settled in similar talks between the U.S. and Iraq in 2011.
Afghan commanders have also voiced frustration about slow progress equipping their military in order to take responsibility for safeguarding the country. They want the U.S. and its allies to provide more sophisticated aircraft, weaponry and surveillance systems. But Western officials question whether Afghanistan can afford such equipment.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, said providing for the security forces would top Karzai’s agenda in Washington this week. Also to be discussed are efforts to draw the Taliban-led insurgency into peace talks, economic and political cooperation, and regional security issues, officials said.
In an address to parliament Wednesday, Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul called Karzai’s trip “one of the most important visits of the president to the United States,” saying the talks would clarify future relations between the two countries.
Karzai is accompanied by senior government officials, including his national security adviser and the ministers of defense, finance and foreign affairs, according to a statement from the president’s office.
The three-day trip also is to include a visit Tuesday to Afghanistan’s intelligence director, Asadullah Khalid, who is being treated in the United States after surviving a bombing at a guest house in Kabul last month, the statement said.
Baktash is a special correspondent.