President Obama is considering withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, amid growing tensions between Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to a report from The New York Times.
The administration is currently negotiating with the Afghan government to keep a residual force for support in the country after the departure of U.S. military troops in 2014. The report, though, said Obama is now seriously weighing ending those talks after a videoconference with Karzai, designed to reduce tensions, ended badly.
U.S. and European officials said, while Karzai had made similar accusations in the past, it was the first time he had made such comments directly to Obama, who took offense and cited the Americans who have died in the country’s longest war as proof of the U.S. commitment.
“There’s always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option,” a senior Western official told the Times. “It is now becoming one of them, and if you listen to some people in Washington, it is maybe now being seen as a realistic path.”
Officials though cautioned that the Obama administration might be using the option to pressure Karzai in negotiations.
An administration official on Tuesday said that there was "nothing new" to deliberations about completely removing troops from the country, pointing to a briefing in January where deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House “wouldn't rule out any option" on post-2014 troop levels.
"The U.S. does not have an inherent objective of 'X' number of troops in Afghanistan," Rhodes said at the time.
The report comes amid a public rift between the U.S. and Afghanistan following the administration’s decision last month to launch formal peace talks with the Taliban.
Karzai quickly pulled out of the talks, claiming he had not been properly consulted and accusing the U.S. of shifting its policy.
President Obama downplayed the controversy, insisting that Kabul had been kept in the loop and that the U.S. had anticipated “difficult negotiations.”
Obama also said that despite “enormous mistrust,” he was assured that Karzai “recognizes the need for political reconciliation.”
The Taliban-U.S. talks though have been stalled, and lawmakers have expressed skepticism about their value.
Last month, the U.S.-led NATO coalition handed over responsibility for security operations to local Afghan forces, ahead of the pullout of all combat troops in 2014.
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This story was updated at 8:40 a.m.