Afghan President Hamid Karzai says it could take 20 years for Afghanistan to be able to pay for its own security, although he has said he hopes his new army and police force will be able to take over security control in five years. President Karzai spoke at a joint news conference in Kabul with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
President Karzai says ambitious plans for a large, modern Afghan army are simply more than the country can afford for a long time.
"For a number of years, maybe for another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that capability and nature with its own resources," Mr. Karzai said.
Speaking with President Karzai at a news conference, Secretary Gates indicated he was not surprised by that statement, but hopes it will not take that long.
"I think that there is a realism on our part that it will be some time before Afghanistan is able to sustain its security forces entirely on its own," Gates said. "And whether that is 15 or 20 years, we will hope for accelerated economic development in Afghanistan."
The two men also discussed the timing of the planned transition of security responsibility from U.S. and coalition forces to the Afghans.
Announcing an increase of 30,000 American troops last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said they will begin to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces by July of 2011, but he did not say how long the transition will take. Secretary Gates indicated the pace of the transition could roughly match President Karzai's stated desire for his forces to be operating on their own in five years.
"We expect that this is a several year process. Whether it is three years or two years or four years, I think, remains to be seen," Gates said.
The Obama administration is working hard to convince Afghans, Americans and coalition partners the international security role in Afghanistan will not end until the Afghan forces are ready, but also that the international military deployment is not open-ended.
Secretary Gates said the United States will continue to have a long-term commitment to helping Afghanistan even after the security transition is completed.