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Afghan leader: U.S. can keep 9 bases past 2014

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 8:15 p.m.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday, May 9, 2013, that the United States must 'cooperate seriously in strengthening the Afghan economy' if it wants to maintain bases in the country past next year.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has irked Washington with his frequent criticism of American military operations in his country, said on Thursday that his government is now ready to let the United States have nine bases across Afghanistan after most foreign troops withdraw in 2014.

A border spat with Pakistan and a desire to test public opinion led Karzai to break months of public silence on this issue, according to Afghan analysts. They said Karzai is concerned that Pakistan is using the Taliban to give it greater leverage and that he wants to find out if Afghans, tired of 12 years of war, will support that size of a U.S. military footprint.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the United States “does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.” The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 would be “only at the request of the Afghan government,” Carney said.

Carney wouldn't say whether the United States was perhaps seeking a temporary presence on nine bases. An American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he had not heard the number nine mentioned.

But Karzai said that's how many bases the Americans requested.

“We are giving the bases, nine bases they want from Afghanistan — in all of Afghanistan,” he said.

Karzai said bases were requested in Kabul; Bagram Air Field, north of the capital; Mazar-e-Sharif in the north; Jalalabad and Gardez near the eastern border with Pakistan; Kandahar and Helmand provinces, which are Taliban strongholds in the south; and Shindand and Herat in western Afghanistan.

In return, Afghanistan wants a U.S. commitment to boost Afghan security, strengthen its armed forces and provide long-term economic development assistance.

“It is our condition that they bring security and bring it quickly and strengthen the Afghan forces and the economy,” he said. “When they (the Americans) do this, we are ready to sign” a partnership agreement.

President Obama has not yet announced how many troops he wants to keep in the country beyond 2014, but officials have said it may be in the range of 10,000.

About 66,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 in 2010.

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