Afghan president to visit White House
Meeting will be Hamid Karzai's 2nd at White House
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday, marking his second such meeting with Obama.
The White House said Monday that Obama "looks forward to welcoming the Afghan delegation to Washington, and discussing our continued transition in Afghanistan, and our shared vision of an enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan."
Karzai's visit comes as he contends with internal political turbulence and security issues, as well as the impending withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO troops, who will hand over security responsibilities within the country by the end of the year. He is also expected to step down as president in 2014, when elections will be held.
They last met in May, when Obama and Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement to guide the handover. In that meeting, Obama flew under the cover of darkness into Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, pledging that the U.S. would not build a perpetual military presence.
"We will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people," he said in a speech televised nationally in the United States.
Friday's meeting comes as the United States works out the details of how to draw down the 66,000 American troops in the country, as well as how many will stay behind. After the official 2014 withdrawal, officials familiar with plans drawn up by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan say a force of 6,000 to 15,000 troops could remain. Those plans are awaiting approval from outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Obama has nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel on Monday to replace Panetta.
Panetta and Karzai are expected to meet at some point, officials say.
A December review showed that the capability of the Afghan military and police continue to lag behind expectations. It found just one of the country's 23 army brigades was capable of operating without U.S. air or ground support.
The last year saw some rough patches in the ties between the countries, including a spring shooting rampage by a U.S. soldier, the burning of Quran holy books by NATO troops and reports that Karzai's government was left out of secret talks between the U.S. government and the Taliban. The two countries split over handling the alleged insurgents picked up by U.S. forces and held prisoner in Afghanistan.
Karzai also proved the occasional thorn in the side of U.S. leaders, once referring to foreigners' interests in instituting a "puppet government" in Afghanistan, and separately meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- a meeting that he explained as maintaining relations with his neighbors.
Obama said after meeting with Karzai in May that the tension between him and his counterpart was "simply overstated." Karzai said at the time that relations are "strong and well-rooted," but acknowledged, "there are moments ... we speak frankly to each other."
Obama has made three visits to Afghanistan as president. Since first assuming the country's helm in December 2001, Karzai has visited the United States to meet with the president three times, including one visit with then-President George W. Bush and two with Obama.
An estimated 2,165 Americans have died as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Violence has continued to rock the country.
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