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Possible U.S. Troop Withdrawal Plan Worries Afghan Officials


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama has not yet decided how many troops to keep in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends in 2014. The Pentagon and the White House both confirmed that today. Their comments follow a New York Times report that the president is seriously considering withdrawing all troops by the end of next year.

And as NPR's Sean Carberry reports from Kabul, talk about the so-called zero option is not sitting well with Afghan officials.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Shukria Barakzai is on the defense committee of Afghanistan's lower house of parliament.

SHUKRIA BARAKZAI: We are worried.

CARBERRY: She says the news of a possible total withdrawal was a complete shock.

BARAKZAI: And I believe sends a kind of message bringing a huge confusion in the minds of the Afghan people.

CARBERRY: She says that Afghans are worried about being abandoned by the international community and this news can only feed that insecurity. The U.S. and Afghanistan have spent months discussing a long-term security pact that would keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue training Afghan forces. But when an attempt to start peace talks with the Taliban last month imploded, Karzai lashed out at the U.S. and suspended negotiations on the security agreement.

BARAKZAI: I understand the frustration of President Obama.

CARBERRY: But Barakzai says abandoning Afghanistan isn't the answer.

BARAKZAI: At the end, that would be the people of Afghanistan receiving the punishment, not President Karzai.

CARBERRY: Parliamentarian Abdul Hafiz Mansoor isn't convinced the U.S. would really withdraw all its troops prematurely.

ABDUL HAFIZ MANSOOR: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: It's a warning to Karzai, he says. Karzai should be very careful about taking such a strong position against the U.S. A number of officials and analysts here believe that Karzai is overplaying his hand, that he believes Obama wants to keep troops in Afghanistan so badly, he will cave to any demand.

RAMAZAN BASHARDOST: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: Parliamentarian Ramazan Bashardost says that's not the case and he warns that Karzai wouldn't last another day if the U.S. withdraws its political and military support. Hamidullah Farooqi, spokesman for an Afghan political party, says that all of the gains of the last 12 years will be lost if the U.S. leaves.

HAMIDULLAH FAROOQI: Our national security teams are not strong enough to defend without the United States' help and support.

CARBERRY: Officials here are hoping the possibility of the so-called zero option will push Karzai to soften his tone and restart talks with the U.S. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.