The President of Afghanistan has called for U.S. troop presence his country to be limited to American military bases by 2013, insisting that the transition of control of the country to the Afghan military be moved up a year from the previously agreed to date. The announcement by President Hamid Karzai came only hours after President Obama had pledged to stick to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by 2014, the New York Times reported.
The announcement came while Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Afghanistan meeting with government officials and apologizing about the U.S. soldier now charged with the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including several children, in last Sunday's massacre. Upon the Defense Secretary's arrival, an interpreter employed by coalition forces crashed a stolen pickup truck near Panetta's plane.
The accelerated transfer announced by Karzai appears to be at odds with U.S. Department of Defense assessment that the Afghan military is not ready to assume the burden of defending the country against insurgents fighting the government forces and the more than 100,000 U.S. and NAT0 troops still in the country. But President Karzai said on Thursday that his military is ready to take over. "Even right now the Afghan security forces are ready to take all security responsibilities," he said.
Yet a Brookings Institute report, based on NATO numbers of a year ago, said only one of the Afghan National Army's 158 battalions had been rated as able to fight independently. And a Defense Department report to Congress last October said at least 70 percent of Afghan Army units still needed American assistance in the field as of last September, the Times reported.
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Photo: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (out of picture) in Kabul, on March 15, 2012.