A report in a leading U.S. newspaper says the United States is considering an option for withdrawal from Afghanistan next year that would leave no American troops in the South Asian nation.
The New York Times, in a report published on its website Monday, cites unnamed American and European officials who say U.S. President Barack Obama has become "increasingly frustrated" in his negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, resulting in the U.S. leader giving "serious consideration" to the zero option.
This is not the first indication that the U.S. might consider pulling all its troops from Afghanistan next year. U.S. officials told the Reuters news agency in response to the Times report, that a comment made in January by Ben Rhodes, the deputy White House national security adviser, that the zero option is one the U.S. would consider, "still stands."
The Times account says the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai has been "slowly unraveling," reaching a new low with last month's U.S. move to open peace talks with the Taliban.
The report says a June 27 videoconference designed to defuse the tensions between the two presidents "ended badly." The Times reports Mr. Karzai accused the U.S. of trying to forge a separate peace with the Taliban and its Pakistani supporters in an arrangement that he said would expose Afghanistan's government to its enemies.
The newspaper says since the videoconference the option of leaving no troops behind has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario to "an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul."
However, an Afghan official told Reuters the two governments understand how to "pressure" each other and "fully understand" the need for foreign troops, especially U.S. ones to stay beyond 2014. The official said an American presence is "vital" for security in Afghanistan and the wider region.
The New York Times reports that officials have cautioned that no decisions have been made on the pace of the pullout and exactly how many American troops to leave behind in Afghanistan. They say a long-term security deal is the goal of the negotiations, but the "hardening of negotiating stance on both sides" could result in a full military pullout like the one in Iraq.
A senior Western official in Kabul told The Times the zero-option is "now being seen as a realistic path