25 March 2015

Ghani to Address Congress after Obama announces slower withdrawal

Ashraf GhaniAfghan President Ashraf Ghani is due to address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, a day after holding talks with President Barack Obama and acknowledging “much work” lies ahead in ensuring his country’s security.

At a joint news conference following their meeting Tuesday in the White House, Mr. Obama announced that 9,800 U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan will stay through the end of the year, revising his earlier plans to cut that number in half.

“Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place, and insurgents still launch attacks, including cowardly suicide bombings against civilians,” Obama said.

The United States has ended combat operations in Afghanistan, where it once had 130,000 troops, but Ghani asked for more flexibility in the withdrawal timeline for the U.S. forces who are still there training and advising the Afghan military. Despite slowing cuts in troop levels this year, Obama remains committed to having fewer than 1,000 in Afghanistan by early 2017.

Ghani said the change “will be used to accelerate reforms, to ensure that the Afghan National Security Forces are much better led, equipped, trained and are focused on their fundamental mission.” He also stressed the need for an Afghan-led peace process, but said his government will not make peace with those who want to use Afghanistan “as a launching pad for global terrorism.”

Also Tuesday, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani told VOA’s “TV Ashna” that “the environment is there” for peace talks with the Taliban, and that the government hoped negotiations would begin “in the coming days.”

Various Afghan officials have discussed the potential for holding talks with the militants who have battled Afghan and international forces for more than a decade, but no concrete plans have emerged. Last week, a Taliban spokesman told VOA there were no plans for negotiations.

Afghanistan has often blamed Pakistan for sheltering Afghan Taliban leaders, and officials believe Pakistan can help push the Taliban to take part in a peace effort.

Rabbani told VOA he could not say how much Pakistan has done toward that end, but that Pakistan has said it supports an Afghan-led peace process.

“In the coming days it will be known whether they can succeed in it or not, but we very much hope that we will witness a sincere attempt by Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table,” Rabbani said.

Ghani’s trip is part of an effort to improve relations with the U.S. that have been strained by nearly 14 years of war and America’s often testy relations with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The Obama administration is asking Congress for funding to allow the Afghan National Security Force to maintain its 352,000 troop level through at least fiscal year 2017.

Both sides also agreed to require the Afghan government to complete specific reforms and meet other milestones in order to receive up to $800 million in economic aid. U.S. officials said the Afghans suggested the incentive-based funding idea.

VOA News

Tags: » » » » »

Write a comment