Increasingly fed up with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama is seriously considering speeding up the U.S. withdrawal and going to a “zero option” that would leave no troops there after next year, The New York Times reports, citing American and European officials.
Obama has committed himself to ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and administration officials have been negotiating with the Afghans about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Karzai has been steadily deteriorating, and reached a new low after an effort in June by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
Karzai promptly repudiated the talks and ended negotiations over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep American forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
A videoconference between the presidents intended to defuse the situation ended badly, the Times reports, citing informed officials from both sides. Karzai is said to have accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving the weak Kabul government at the mercy of its enemies.
Karzai had made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up his government, the officials said.
The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was already gaining favor before the June 27 video conference, according to the officials. But now the prospect of a complete military exit similar to the Iraq withdrawal has gone from the worst-case scenario — and a threat to use against Karzai — to a serious alternative.