KABUL May 28 Outgoing Afghan President Hamid
Karzai welcomed a U.S. decision to withdraw all troops by the
end of 2016, saying on Wednesday that this should give the
Taliban a reason to end their insurgency and negotiate with the
Karzai had previously been fiercely opposed to signing a
security agreement with Washington which would leave a small
contingent of U.S. troops in the country beyond 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined a plan to
withdraw all but 9,800 American troops by the end of the year
and pull out the rest by the end of 2016.
The deadline would end more than a decade of military
engagement by the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan that was
triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
"The United States has announced that it will reduce its
combat troops and bring the total to a zero," a statement from
Karzai's palace said. "The Afghan president is calling on
insurgents to use this historic opportunity and end the war."
Afghanistan is due to hold the second round of voting in a
presidential election to elect Karzai's successor on June 14 as
the incumbent is barred by the constitution by running for
The U.S. plan hinges on Afghanistan's next president signing
the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that the United States
says it needs in order for troops to stay beyond 2014.
Most analysts expect the deal to be clinched in time, as
both candidates in the run-off say they will sign it promptly.
The winner is scheduled to take office in August.
In the second round, former anti-Taliban northern alliance
leader Abdullah Abdullah will run against Ashraf Ghani, an
ex-World Bank economist.
Karzai, whose relationship with the U.S. government soured
bitterly during his final term in office, has refused to sign
the deal, sending the economy into a downward spiral over
concerns about the country's future security.
As part of the post-2014 force, U.S. soldiers are expected
to continue training Afghanistan's new 350,000 strong security
force and conduct limited counterterrorism operations against al
Qaeda and other hardline militants.
(Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina and