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    Eikenberry sees continued role for US beyond 2014

    KABUL(PAN): The US will retain a “sizable mission” in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to support the country’s fledgling security forces and to carry out counter-terrorism operations, if needed, the top US diplomat in the country said on Thursday.

    The US has said it will start withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan in 2011 with Afghans to take the lead in all security operations by 2014. But there have been conflicting views on what exactly that will mean for Afghanistan and the US.

    Generals in Afghanistan have insisted that the transition will be based on conditions on the ground, whereas US Vice President Joe Biden, earlier this week, told a US TV station that all US forces would be out of Afghanistan by 2014 “come hell or high water”.

    Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, describing Biden as “a colourful speaker”, said that was not exactly the case. He reiterated that the transition would be “conditions-based; not calendar-based” and said the US and Afghanistan would have a long and enduring relationship.

    “Certainly we will have a long-term partnership with your army and police, like we do in many other parts of the world,” he told reporters in Kabul.  

    The US would continue keep a “sizable mission” in Afghanistan to train and support the police and army and could also stay on to carry out counter-terrorism operations, if needed.

     “We will likely, if there’s a requirement for counter-terrorism missions, and there’s an agreement with your government, I could see us staying of for those missions as well.”

    However, he stressed that would last only as long as they were welcome.

    Eikenberry said that many Afghans did not know why the US and NATO were in their country; that the memories and awareness of the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001, had faded.

    “But let me reassure you all here, the memory of 9/11 is still fresh in the minds of Americans and we know that the security of the United States of America starts here in Afghanistan. We won’t forget that.”

    The September 11 attacks were masterminded by the Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, who at the time was being sheltered by the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan. When the regime refused to give bin Laden up, the US launched its war. Bin Laden has still not been found.

    Eikenberry said 2010 had been a momentous year for the US-Afghan partnership, but that there were still challenges ahead.

    "Our military operation must continue to break the Taliban's momentum, and we have had successes in important parts of the country over the past year, and have been achieving that goal. But more work needs to be done, to train the Afghan National Army and police," he said.

    He said, however, he was confident the country was on the right track. The number of security forces had grown from 191,000 to 258,000 over the past 10 months and the police had shown themselves to be a “professional” force.

     “I am confident, that over the next several years, as we look at the growth of your police and army and the strengthening of your government, with each year we will see a more normal and secure Afghanistan.”

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