WELL-POSITIONED TO WITHDRAW
The USA is “well-positioned” to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July (2011), the US defence secretary Robert Gates said on Monday 03/07/2011 (see -Petraeus W Plan).
Robert Gates was speaking during an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital Kabul, where he is discussing the future of USA involvement in the conflict-torn country.
Robert Gates also apologised over the deaths of nine Afghan boys over the weekend in a NATO air strike (see – Kunar 02.20.11). The incident has triggered widespread public anger in Afghanistan. Robert Gates was speaking alongside President Karzai, who later this month is expected to announce the schedule for the handover of security responsibility from foreign forces to Afghans.
Mr Gates’ apology comes just one day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected an apology from Gen David Petraeus, the U.S commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan. US President Barack Obama also apologised for the killings of the boys, which he described as a “tragic accident”. The USA president added civilian deaths were the main cause of a worsening in the relationship between Afghanistan and the US.
Hundreds of Afghans rallied on Sunday (03/06/2011) to denounce the killings. The protesters condemned both NATO and the Taliban for killing civilians.
Robert Gates is yet to indicate how many of the 97,000 US forces in the country will be withdrawn. Earlier on Monday, he told troops at Bagram airbase that both the US and Afghan governments agree that the US should remain involved even after 2014, when the withdrawal of troops is scheduled to be completed (see also – Sneaking-out).
“Obviously it would be a small fraction of the presence that we have today, but I think we’re willing to do that,” he is quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.
The war is in its 10th year, civilian casualties are at an all-time high, and the population has grown weary of the fighting.
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