Gates: Karzai Planning to Step Down in 2014

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 7:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told him he plans to step down when his current term ends in 2014.

Gates, who testified before a Senate panel Wednesday, praised Mr. Karzai for pursuing a long-term relationship with the United States even though Washington has “often not done a very good job of listening” to his concerns. Gates also said the Afghan leader understands the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan and the importance of the U.S. role in rebuilding the war-torn country.

The testimony came after U.S. President Barack Obama held another in a series of regular meetings with his national security team about the size and scope of a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled to begin in July.

Secretary Gates has said he believes the beginning of a U.S. troop drawdown should be modest in terms of numbers. He said Afghanistan is “not a war without end,” and underscored the danger of allowing failure of the mission.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to say whether the withdrawal was on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting. He said the U.S. has made significant progress in Afghanistan but that Mr. Obama has yet to make a decision on how quickly to remove U.S. forces.

U.S. and NATO forces are scheduled to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Also Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators sent President Obama a letter urging him to accelerate the troop pullout. The letter said the U.S. has “largely met” its goals of destroying al-Qaida's haven, removing the Taliban government and chasing down those responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, is in Washington preparing for the U.S. Senate hearing next week to confirm his nomination as the new CIA director.

The White House spokesman was evasive on the question of meetings between the general and the president.