|Obama, Karzai to Meet Friday|
|MARY BRUCE (@marykbruce) and LUIS MARTINEZ (@LMartinezABC)||Jan 8, 2013, 5:12 PM|
President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet at the White House Friday to discuss the future of the U.S.-Afghan relationship as the Obama administration readies to draw down its remaining forces after more than a dozen years of war.
Karzai arrived today for three days of meetings, including his first face-to-face discussion with Obama since last year's NATO summit. Obama and Karzai also plan to hold a joint news conference Friday.
With the Obama administration poised to withdraw the majority of its roughly 66,000 troops by the end of next year, the meeting is an opportunity for the presidents to take stock of the transition and evaluate the path forward, according to White House officials.
"This is not a visit during which President Obama will be making decisions about U.S. troop levels in the immediate future," Deputy National Security Adviser For Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call today. The president will make that decision in the "coming months."
The administration has suggested keeping less than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends after next year. That number is far fewer than the 20,000 originally proposed by Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan.
According to Rhodes, the administration has not ruled out the "zero option" of leaving no U.S. troops on the ground after 2014. "We're not guided by the goal of a certain number of U.S. troops in the country," Rhodes stressed.
In addition to the transition, Karzai and Obama are expected to discuss the nature of U.S. support for Afghanistan beyond 2014 which would focus on the training and equipping of Afghan security forces and counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda. The U.S and Afghan governments are working on a Bilateral Security Agreement to accomplish these goals.
"We want to have an Afghan partner that is capable of standing on its own, with our support, again, and denying safe haven and having the capability to take the lead for its own security and for the future of the Afghan people," Rhodes said.
The timeline set by the U.S. and Afghan governments requires an agreement for a post-2014 Bilateral Security Agreement be reached by November at the latest.