By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2013 – The centerpiece of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit here this week will be meetings Jan. 11 at the White House, where he and President Barack Obama can discuss the changes in Afghanistan and how the United States can work with the country in the future.
Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, put the visit in perspective today during a phone-in news conference.
Rhodes said the United States will continue drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan through this year and next. Around 68,000 American troops are in Afghanistan today. The United States “will not plateau” at that number through 2014, he said, but will continue the gradual drawdown.
Depending on the situation on the ground, Rhodes said, there could conceivably be no American forces in the country in 2015.
All aspects, he added, are under discussion.
The United States is helping to train Afghan soldiers and police, and Afghan forces already have assumed much of the security burden in the country, he noted. “We want to have an Afghan partner that is capable of standing on its own with our support and denying safe haven [to terrorists] and having the ability to take the lead for its own security,” Rhodes said.
The visit this week is a chance for the two presidents to take stock of efforts in Afghanistan “and then to provide guidance going forward on a host of issues,” he said.
Reductions of U.S. forces will continue this year, Rhodes said, and they will be guided by the discussions Obama and Karzai will have.
Rhodes did not get into specific numbers of forces or how many troops would stay in the country after the combat mission ends at the end of 2014. Afghanistan and the United States are working on a bilateral security agreement that includes a status of forces agreement for any American troops that would be in the country. Rhodes said their missions would be counterterrorism and training and equipping Afghan forces.
“This is not a visit where President Obama will be making decisions about U.S. troop levels in the immediate future or beyond 2014,” Rhodes said. “It’s a visit where the two leaders will be able to consult about those issues, and then in the coming months, President Obama will be able to make those decisions in consultation with his national security team.”