MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington this week
will center on talks to help shape the U.S. commitment to his country
after the bulk of American combat forces leave in two years, according
Afghans worry about U.S. abandonment, fearing a
repeat of history when the United States supported the mujahedin in
their fight against the Soviets then walked away after the Soviet
withdrawal in 1989.
Repeating that history is "a perpetual worry
of the Afghans," said David Barno, a retired Army three-star general at
the Center for a New American Security.
The Soviet-backed Afghan
government collapsed within a few years, and Afghanistan plunged into a
bloody civil war in the 1990s that led to the Taliban's takeover in
Karzai has expressed a desire for additional U.S. help with
finances and security beyond the date when most international combat
troops are scheduled to depart, at the end of 2014. But the White House
is likely to respond to Karzai's wish list with a roster of its own
Karzai will need to convince Washington of his
commitment to good government and the rule of law, said Mark Jacobson, a
fellow at the German Marshall Fund and former deputy NATO civilian
representative in Afghanistan.
The talks will not center only on
"a list of demands and wishes," said Said Jawad, a former Afghanistan
ambassador to the United States.
White House: Zero troops in Afghanistan possible
officials may also press Karzai on his commitment to hold presidential
elections in 2014. Karzai said he will abide by the nation's
constitution and not run again. His 2009 election was plagued by
allegations of fraud and irregularities.
Karzai, who arrived
Tuesday and will meet with Obama on Friday, wants a long-term U.S.
presence, Jawad said. The White House has said the meetings this week
are not designed to reach a final agreement on post-2014 troop levels
but to open discussions about it.
Afghanistan's most pressing need appears to be support for its fledgling armed forces, say military analysts.
security forces, which include soldiers and police, are on track to
number more than 350,000 in 2013. Many units are capable, but they lack
air support, intelligence capabilities and technology to counter
"I don't see how they get by without substantial
American help in those transition years (after 2014)," said Michael
O'Hanlon, an analyst at Brookings Institution.
There are about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of nearly 100,000.
White House appears to be favoring leaving a residual force of fewer
than 10,000 U.S. troops, according to the Associated Press, citing
unnamed officials. Though the White House said it would not rule out the
possibility of leaving no residual force behind, O'Hanlon said that is
likely a negotiating tactic to pressure the Afghans to reach an
agreement to provide legal protections for troops after 2014.
Pentagon has said a residual force should be capable of conducting
counterterrorism missions and providing support and training to Afghan's