WASHINGTON — Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is considering speeding up the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.
Obama is committed to ending US military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Karzai has been slowly unraveling and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
Karzai repudiated the talks and ended negotiations with the United States over the long-term security deal that is needed to keep US forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
A videoconference between Obama and Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to US and Afghan officials. Karzai, according to those sources, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and its backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies. Karzai has made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Karzai’s government.
The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was gaining momentum before the June 27 videoconference, the officials said. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration.
As it stands, the number of US troops in Afghanistan, about 63,000, is scheduled to go down to 34,000 by February. The White House has said the vast majority of troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of next year, although it now appears that the schedule could accelerate.