World / Middle East

US troops won't be needed at end of year, Karzai says

By Agencies in Kabul (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-17 07:56

In his final address to Afghanistan's National Assembly on Saturday, President Hamid Karzai told the United States its troops can leave at the end of the year because his military, which already protects 93 percent of the country, was ready to take over entirely.

He reiterated his stance that he would not sign a pact with Washington that would provide for a residual force of US troops to remain behind after the final withdrawal, unless peace could first be established.

The Afghan president has come under heavy pressure to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, with a council of notables that he himself convened recommending that he sign the pact.

The residual US force would train and mentor Afghan troops, and some US Special Forces would also be left behind to hunt down al-Qaida members.

All 10 candidates seeking the presidency in April 5 elections have said they would sign the security agreement. But Karzai himself does not appear to want his legacy to include a commitment to a longer foreign troop presence in his country.

Karzai was brought to power after the 2001 US-led invasion and subsequently won two presidential elections - in 2004 and again in 2009. But he has in recent years espoused a combative nationalism, with his hourlong speech on Saturday no exception.

US troops won't be needed at end of year, Karzai says

"I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere," he said.

Karzai said the war in Afghanistan was "imposed" on his nation, presumably by the 2001 invasion, and he told the US it could bring peace to Afghanistan if it went after terrorist sanctuaries and countries that supported terrorism.

Karzai told the Assembly, which was holding its opening session for this term, that security forces were strong enough to defend Afghanistan without the help of international troops.

Karzai will step down after next month's presidential elections. Under Afghanistan's Constitution, he is banned from seeking a third term.

"The government will use all its power to ensure the coming presidential and provincial council elections are free, fair and transparent. The Afghan National Security Forces will also provide a secure environment for Afghans to take part in the process," he said.

He came to power in December 2001 following an international agreement signed in Bonn, Germany, and was confirmed by a Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, which selected a transitional government to rule while preparing for nationwide elections.

Relations between Karzai and the White House have deteriorated since his re-election in 2009, of which the US and several other countries charged widespread fraud. Karzai in turn accused them of interference.

Throughout his speech, Karzai spoke of his accomplishments over the last 12 years, saying schools were functioning, rights were being given to women, energy projects were coming online and the Afghan currency had been stabilized. Karzai said that when he first took power, his country was isolated and nothing was functioning.

"I know the future president will protect these gains and priorities and will do the best for peace in the country, and I, as an Afghan citizen, will support peace and will cooperate."

Afghanistan's current parliament plans to tackle a number of key issues, including a controversial law on the elimination of violence against women.


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