The relationship between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has always been rather rocky, but now it’s gotten so bad that Obama is mulling a plan that would have him seeing far less of Karzai in the coming years. U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is scheduled to wind down by the end of 2014, but there had been talk of leaving behind a “residual force” of a few thousand troops. Now, with the relationship between the two presidents hitting a “new low” in recent weeks, the New York Times reports that Obama is seriously considering a “zero option” that would leave no troops in Afghanistan after next year.
Talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan for a long-term security deal haven’t been going well in recent months, as Karzai wants specific troop and financial commitments, and security guarantees that could force the U.S. to increase drone attacks in Pakistan. The situation got even worse last month when the U.S. tried to start peace talks with the Taliban. Afghan officials accused the Obama administration of going behind Karzai’s back and ended ongoing negotiations for a long-term security deal. An attempt to smooth things over with a videoconference between the two presidents backfired, with Karzai accusing Obama of trying to make a separate peace deal with the Taliban and its Pakistani supporters. According to the Times, Obama “responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Mr. Karzai’s government.”
There are still 63,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and that number should be down to 34,000 by February 2014. Rather than waiting until the end of 2014 to pull the remaining troops from the country, the Obama administration may bring home most U.S. forces by next summer.
Removing all troops from Afghanistan was always a possibility, but the Times reports that it was previously the “worst-case scenario.” A senior Western official in Kabul said he hopes the Karzai government is starting to understand that it’s a strong possibility, and that “they’re learning now, not later, when it’s going to be too late.” The front-page Times article explaining that Obama is seriously fed up with Karzai should help drive the point home.