President Obama and President Karzai held a joint press conference at the White House on January 11, 2013, to discuss the transition in Afghanistan.
[Editor's Note: Read the presidents' joint statement and the press conference that previewed President's Karzai's visit to the United States. Click here for more CFR 2012 resources examining the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential transition.]
Excerpt from transcript:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Okay, we've got two questions each I think from U.S. and Afghan press. I will start with Scott Wilson of The Washington Post.
Q Thank you, Mr. President and President Karzai.
Mr. President, does moving up the deadline for the transition to an Afghan security role lead in the spring mean you'll be winding down U.S. troops faster than you expected this year? And as specifically as possible, how many troops do you expect to leave in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for the two missions you outlined? And would you consider leaving any troops in Afghanistan beyond that date without an immunity agreement for their actions?
And, President Karzai, you've spoken often about the threat the American presence in Afghanistan poses to your nation's sovereignty. I'm wondering if you will be considering and working on behalf of an immunity agreement to preserve some U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 date, and how many U.S. troops you would accept after that time.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Scott, our first task has been to meet the transition plan that we set first in Lisbon, then in Chicago. And because of the progress that's been made by our troops, because of the progress that's been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat.
So let me repeat: What's going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country. That doesn't mean that coalition forces, including U.S. forces, are no longer fighting. They will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops. It does mean, though, that Afghans will have taken the lead, and our presence, the nature of our work will be different. We will be in a training, assisting, advising role.
Obviously, we will still have troops there and that means that our men and women will still be in harm's way, that there will still be the need for force protection. The environment is going to still be very dangerous. But what we've seen is, is that Afghan soldiers are stepping up, at great risk to themselves, and that allows us then to make this transition during the spring.
What that translates into precisely in terms of how this drawdown of U.S. troop proceeds is something that isn't yet fully determined. I'm going to be over the coming weeks getting recommendations from General Allen and other commanders on the ground. They will be designing and shaping a responsible plan to make sure that we're not losing the gains that have already been made, to make sure that we're in a position to support Afghan units when they're in theater, and to make sure that our folks are also protected even as we're drawing down.
So I can't give you a precise number at this point. I'll probably make a separate announcement once I've gotten recommendations from troop -- from the generals and our commanders in terms of what that drawdown might look like.
With respect to post-2014, we've got two goals -- and our main conversation today was establishing a meeting of the minds in terms of what those goals would be with a follow-on presence of U.S. troops. Number one, to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces so that they can maintain their own security; and number two, making sure that we can continue to go after remnants of al Qaeda or other affiliates that might threaten our homeland.
That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we've had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan.
Similar to the issue of drawdown, I'm still getting recommendations from the Pentagon and our commanders on the ground in terms of what that would look like. And when we have more information about that, I will be describing that to the American people.
I think President Karzai's primary concern -- and obviously you'll hear directly from him -- is making sure that Afghan sovereignty is respected. And if we have a follow-on force of any sort past 2014, it's got to be at the invitation of the Afghan government and they have to feel comfortable with it.
I will say -- and I've said to President Karzai -- that we have arrangements like this with countries all around the world, and nowhere do we have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops. That's how I, as Commander-in-Chief, can make sure that our folks are protected in carrying out very difficult missions.
And so I think President Karzai understands that. I don't want to get ahead of ourselves in terms of the negotiations that are still remaining on the bilateral security agreement, but I think it's fair to say that, from my perspective at least, it will not be possible for us to have any kind of U.S. troop presence post-2014 without assurances that our men and women who are operating there are in some way subject to the jurisdiction of another country.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Well, sir, the bilateral security agreement is in mind for the interests of both countries. We understand that the issue of immunity is of very specific importance for the United States, as was for us the issue of sovereignty and detentions and the continued presence of international forces in Afghan villages and the very conduct of the war itself.
With those issues resolved, as we did today, part of it -- the rest was done earlier -- I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised, in a way that the provisions that we arrive at through our talks will give the United States the satisfaction of what it seeks and will also provide the Afghan people the benefits that they are seeking through this partnership and the subsequent agreement.
Q Do you have any sense of how many troops you would be willing to have?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: That's not for us to decide. It's an issue for the United States. Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan. It's the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and, beyond, in the region. The specifics of numbers are issues that the military will decide, and Afghanistan will have no particular concern when we are talking of numbers and how they are deployed.