Afghan President Hamid Karzai told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that American forces must leave rural areas of Afghanistan, withdrawing to major bases, according to a statement from Karzai’s office.
“International troops should leave their bases in rural areas and villages and consolidate in their main bases,” Karzai said, according to the Pashto-language announcement posted on the Afghan presidency’s website today. While Karzai attached no deadline to the demand, he said “Afghan forces have the ability to ensure security in rural areas and villages,” according to the statement.
“Both sides should work together to complete the process of Afghanistan’s security transition from international troops to Afghan forces in 2013 instead of 2014,” the statement quoted Karzai as saying. On Feb. 1, Panetta told reporters that the NATO-led coalition supporting Karzai’s government against the Taliban will aim to end its primary combat role starting in mid-2013 and drop back to advising Afghan forces.
The U.S. has about 89,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, after withdrawing 10,000 last year. It plans to remove at least 23,000 more by September, and other nations are reducing their numbers as well.
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