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Conflict

US: total withdrawal from Afghanistan possible

A top American security adviser has said the possibility of US troops leaving Afghanistan altogether after 2014 should not be discounted. The comments come just before crucial talks between Kabul and Washington.

Washington does not rule out completely withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan after 2014, the White House said Tuesday. The comments came just days before Afghan President Hamid Karzai were due to engage in important security talks with President Barack Obama in Washington.

Obama's deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, when quizzed on what decision would be taken on the fate of US troops in the war-torn Central Asian country after December 2014, said: "We wouldn't rule out any option."

Rhodes also added that a deal on the matter needed to be closed by November and that Friday's meeting between Karzai and Obama "is an opportunity for the two presidents to meet during a critical time in the negotiations."

On Friday, the two leaders are likely to discuss Obama's two explicit goals in Afghanistan beyond 2014: to support the Afghan security forces with training and equipment and to maintain counter-terrorism activities to fend off terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

"Those are the guiding factors for the [bilateral security agreement] negotiations," said Rhodes.

Whether US soldiers should remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 is a highly contested topic among top American army officials and analysts.

General John Allen, the US' leading commander in Afghanistan has proposed maintaining a troop presence of between 6,000 and 15,000. Currently, 66,000 US troops form the bulk of 100,000-strong NATO deployment in Afghanistan drawn from 50 nations.

Germany questions proposal

Reacting to the speculation in Washington, German Foreign Office spokesman Andreas Peschke said a full US pullout in 2014 was "an option beyond any possibility of realization."

The spokesman for German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziére, Stefan Paris, said NATO at its summit in Chicago in May last year had obligated itself to assisting Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal of combat troops through the provision of equipment and further training for Afghan personnel.

Elke Hoff, defense expert of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) - the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government - warned Wednesday that a complete US withdrawal in 2014 could prompt Germany to also cease planning for a post-2014 support phase. That was because the 4,300 German Bundeswehr troops currently based in northern Afghanistan were dependent on American helicopter support, she said.

"We would possibly have to completely pull out because we don't possess sufficient transport and protective measures," Hoff told the news agency Reuters.

"I find it somewhat annoying ... that it's been announced unilaterally and apparently only with US-American interests in the foreground," said Hoff, adding that Germany should seek clarification from its NATO partner.

sej/ipj (dapd, Reuters, dpa)