U.S. President Barack Obama, in tough talks with Hamid Karzai, may speed up U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and leave none behind, officials said.
The New York Times, quoting U.S. and European officials, reported talks with the Afghan president are frustrating Obama and as a result, the U.S. president is giving serious thought to bringing U.S. troops home before the end-of-2014 deadline and considering the "zero option," which would leave no U.S. troops in the country, the newspaper said.
Currently, Obama administration and Afghan officials have been discussing leaving a small "residual force" of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the United States ends its combat operations by end of next year.
However, the officials told the Times Obama's relationship with Karzai is getting more contentious. Last month's rejection by Karzai of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar only made matters worse. Karzai also ended negotiations on a security agreement for keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
The Times, quoting U.S. and Afghan officials, said last month's Obama-Karzai video conference to ease tensions also didn't go well, with Karzai reportedly accusing the United States of trying to negotiate separate peace agreements with both the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan's government vulnerable.
Karzai has made similar accusations in the past but they were only meant for Afghan consumption, the newspaper said.
The report said the "zero option" had been raised even prior to the video conference. However, since then the option, similar to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, has progressed from being considered the worst-case scenario to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul, the officials told the Times.
They stressed no decision had yet been made on speeding up the withdrawal or how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan since the goal is still to conclude a long-term security deal. However, they said with the negotiation positions of both sides getting tougher, a repeat of an Iraq-like situation cannot be ruled out.
The existing schedule calls for the 63,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan to be reduced to about 34,000 by February 2014. After that, the vast majority of the troops would be out of Afghanistan by end of 2014. The Times said it now appears the timetable could be sped up to bring home the bulk of the troops by next summer.