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Afghan president urges slower troop withdrawal

March 24, 2015

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is in Washington to discuss America's future military presence. The talks come as a suspected CIA drone strike killed nine along the Pakistani border.

USA Afghanistan Präsident Ashraf Ghani in Washington
Image: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

US President Barack Obama will receive his counterpart on Tuesday as the two discuss the pace of withdrawals by US troops in what has become America's longest war.

The US-led ISAF combat mission officially ended last year and Afghan forces are expected to take responsibility for security in the nation. But despite more than $60 billion (54.6 billion euros) invested in the country's armed forces, desertions, drug use and illiteracy remain rampant as the country battles an intractable Taliban insurgency.

Now with the spring fighting season looming, Ghani has asked for flexibility before Washington pulls out its remaining 10,000 troops -- scheduled to be withdrawn incrementally through 2016.

"We do not now ask what the United States can do for us. We want to say what Afghanistan will do for itself and for the world," said Ghani, paraphrasing a famous speech by former US president John F. Kennedy.

The Obama administration is "actively considering that request," US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday. The president has requested $3.8 billion to fund as many as 352,000 Afghan forces through 2017.

America's longest war

Neither lead spoke in terms of US troop numbers. But US officials have said the pace of withdrawal is slowing down. The Pentagon will likely leave as many as 9,800 American troops into next year down from the original 5,500 planned.

One of the bargaining chips appears to be the future of a US base at Jalabad in Kandahar province where the Taliban had its capital until the US-led invasion in 2001.

Since then the US has fought a long insurgency against the Taliban and associated Islamist militant groups in a conflict that's killed more than 2,200 American troops in the past 14 years.

The UN reports that 3,700 Afghan civilians were killed last year alone.

Insurgency, lawlessness continues

The meetings over troops come as a suspected US drone strike killed at least nine militants on the Afghanistan side of the tribal border with Pakistan.

Drone strikes are not tracked in Afghanistan but two Pakistani intelligence officials say the strike was against the Lashkar-e-Islam group that recently joined forces with the Pakistani-branch of the Taliban.

The deadly airstrike comes amid warming relations between Islamabad and Kabul, traditionally hostile neighbors who accuse each other of harboring insurgents on each other's soil.

Closer to Afghanistan's capital, masked gunmen opened fire on a passenger bus on Tuesday killing 13 people. It is the third time unknown assailants have targeted a bus and the Taliban has denied connection in the attacks.

Past attacks were rooted in sectarian and ethnic tensions with the Hazara minority group targeted by pro-Taliban supporters.

"We have tasked security forces to do a proper investigation and hand over perpetrators to the judicial officials," Abdul Majid Khogyani, the local province's acting governor said.

jar/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)