Prospects for an orderly withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan suffered two blows on Thursday as President Hamid Karzai demanded that the United States confine troops to major bases by next year, and the Talibanannounced that they were suspending peace talks with the Americans.
Getting talks started with the Taliban has been a major goal of the United States and its NATO allies for the past two years, and only in recent months was there concrete evidence of progress.
And the declaration by President Karzai, if carried out, would greatly accelerate the pace of transition from NATO to Afghan control, which previously was envisioned to be complete by 2014. Moving most troops to major bases would greatly reduce their role on the ground.
Mr. Karzai was reacting to widespread Afghan anger over the massacre by an American soldier of 16 civilians in Kandahar on Sunday, and the decision of the military authorities to remove the soldier from Afghanistan, which was reported on Wednesday.
The Taliban statement, issued in English and Pashto on an insurgent Web site, said talks with an American representative had commenced over the release of some Taliban members from the Guantánamo Bay prison, but accused the American representative of changing the preconditions for the talks.
It was unclear if the two developments might have been related. But both came to light just as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had left Afghanistan after a tense two-day visit that included talks with Mr. Karzai, and the Afghanistan president’s announcement in particular appeared to be a surprise. On Wednesday, President Obama said in Washington that the timetable for an Afghanistan withdrawal would not change. Read more at the NewYorkTimes...