KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a speech Thursday that the United States wants to retain nine bases in Afghanistan after NATO’s formal withdrawal in 2014, his first concrete statement on American plans to stay in the country beyond 2014.
U.S. officials would not confirm any interest in keeping nine bases while talks are ongoing, but Karzai said they have made that position clear in negotiations over the bilateral security agreement that would guide the long-term American mission here.
During his speech at Kabul University, Karzai appeared pleased with what he called a U.S. desire. “They want nine bases . . . across the country, in Kabul, Bagram, Mazar, Jalalabad, Gardez, Kandahar, Helmand, Shindand and Herat,” he told faculty members and students. “We agree to give the bases. We see their presence after 2014 in Afghanistan as a positive.”
Still, he outlined his own demands, including an “acceleration of efforts” by the United States for bringing peace to Afghanistan, the strengthening of Afghan forces, and “crucial and honest” endeavors to empower the government.
The United States has not said how many troops it would like to keep in Afghanistan after 2014, but U.S. officials have said they hope 8,000 to 12,000 troops will remain. Those troops would focus largely on training the Afghan army and police as well as conducting counterterrorism operations against transnational terrorists and high-level Taliban members.
“As President Obama has stated, the U.S. does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan. We envision that the [Bilateral Strategic Agreement] will address access to and use of Afghan facilities by U.S. forces in the future,” said David Snepp, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
White House press secretary Jay Carney echoed those remarks, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that any U.S. presence after 2014 would be only “at the invitation of the Afghanistan government and aimed at training Afghanistan forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda.”
The cities mentioned by Karzai span the country and house some of NATO’s largest bases, which are likely to be dismantled or significantly downsized if the United States pulls out of them. U.S. officials have long said they are reluctant to leave behind infrastructure that would be difficult for Afghan forces to maintain.