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    Obama, Karzai Discuss Afghan Transition

    U.S. forces are scheduled to begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan starting in July.
    U.S. forces are scheduled to begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan starting in July.
    Kent Klein

    President Barack Obama has expressed sorrow to Afghan President Hamid Karzai over civilian deaths that U.S.-led airstrikes recently caused in Afghanistan.  U.S. Officials say Mr. Obama will decide “soon” how quickly U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan.

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday the two presidents held a one-hour videoconference about the state of the war in Afghanistan.

    Carney said Mr. Obama expressed sorrow over the civilian deaths.  But he said the U.S. and Afghan leaders both noted that most civilian losses are caused by the Taliban.

    The spokesman would not say whether Mr. Karzai asked the president to stop the airstrikes by U.S. Air Force Predator drones.

    Mr. Obama has said he will begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan next month.  Carney said a more specific date has not been established. “There was not a discussion of specific numbers.  As you know and it remains the case, the president has not made a decision yet about the pace and scope.   He is obviously going to be having discussions with his team in the coming days and weeks about that matter, and will make his decision soon, as he said the other day," he said.

    Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin, told reporters Wednesday he wants the president to withdraw 15,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.  About 100,000 American service members are in Afghanistan.

    Starting Thursday, Senator Levin will lead confirmation hearings for Leon Panetta, the president’s nominee for Defense Secretary.

    The committee’s top Republican, Senator John McCain, told a newspaper this week he hopes Mr. Obama will pull no more than 5,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan this year.

    The president’s goal is for Afghans to take total control of their country’s security by the end of 2014.

    At the same time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has released a report which criticizes U.S. efforts to build a democracy in Afghanistan.

    The two-year study shows that massive U.S. financial aid to Afghanistan has produced limited results in nation-building.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration welcomes the report, but does not endorse all of its conclusions. “It is important to note that Afghanistan has made significant progress, and the presumption that our assistance has contributed little, and that Afghanistan has made no progress is just simply wrong, and we disagree with that," he said.

    Ryan Crocker, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, agreed at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that progress has been made.  

    He said U.S. aid has especially helped to improve education and health care in Afghanistan.

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