Obama, Karzai to discuss postwar Afghan plan in January

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the meeting during a joint press conference with Karzai in Kabul on Thursday. Topping the list of talking points for that Jan. 7 meeting will be the number of American forces to remain in Afghanistan after the White House's 2014 deadline. 

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The meeting could coincide with the release of Gen John Allen's plan to withdraw the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops in the country and his recommendations for how many American personnel should remain in Afghanistan post-2014. 

Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will likely request a force of between 6,000 and 15,000 troops to advise and assist Afghan forces and conduct specific counterterrorism operations against Taliban and other extremist groups in the country.

That said, Panetta remained mum on what those discussions between Karzai and Obama would entail during Thursday's press conference. 

"That will be an issue that will be discussed by the president with President Karzai, in consultation with him," according to Panetta. "And then ultimately . . . that will be revealed to not only the American people, but the Afghan people as well." 

The issue of the postwar American military footprint in Afghainstan along with "all other relevant issues" regarding the over decade-long conflict will be on the table during the January summit, Karzai said. 

Other issues include lingering questions over Afghan authority on terror detention centers in the country, contiuned U.S. support of Afghan security forces and other  "questions that directly touch Afghan sovereignty" will all be "vital and important issues" up for debate, Karzai added. 

That said, no issue looms larger than ongoing negotiations between Washington and Kabul on the status of forces agreement for postwar Afghanistan. 

The lack of such an agreement with Iraq in the weeks after the U.S. pullout there last December is the main reason for the civil unrest and escalating secretarian violence plaguing the country, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) told The Hill last Tuesday. 

“That ended up being a mistake,” he said. “We don’t want Afghanistan to suffer the same way.” 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he personally preferred a “limited footprint” in both troops and bases for the American forces that end up staying in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline. 

That said, the question remains on how Washington and Kabul end up defining what constitutes a permanent base, and whether that base would be under U.S. or Afghan control, according to Levin. 

However, Lieberman agreed with Levin and others on Capitol Hill and in the White House that any American force presence in postwar Afghanistan needed to be dictated, in some form, by Kabul. 

To that end, Panetta said he was "very confident that we will ultimately be able to achieve an agreement" on what the U.S. presence will be in Afghanistan after the withdrawal, given the strong relationship between the White House and Kabul.

"I think the [White House and] President Karzai is committed to that enduring presence," according to Panetta.

"We are committed to respecting the sovereignty of Afghanistan.  And we believe that we can achieve the kind of agreement that would be acceptable to both countries," he added.