KABUL—The Afghan government qualified President Hamid Karzai's demand for an immediate withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces from Afghan villages, saying it will be the subject of negotiations that could take months.
Mr. Karzai stunned the U.S. and its coalition allies last week by demanding that foreign forces pull out from villages and into bases, a move that would cripple U.S. military strategy.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghan villages and to confine them to bases following a shooting rampage by a U.S. staff sergeant on Sunday, Eduardo Kaplan reports on Markets Hub. Photo: Reuters.
The Afghan president made the demand amid an outcry over the killing of 16 civilians by a rogue U.S. Army staff sergeant in the southern Kandahar province, the Karzai family's home.
Mr. Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said in an interview Sunday that the Afghan president went public only after making similar requests in private conversations with senior U.S. officials and being ignored.
President Barack Obama and Mr. Karzai said following a telephone call Friday that they would keep discussing this issue. "There is progress," Mr. Faizi said. "Both sides have agreed that it is important to start negotiations" on the matter.
He said Kabul expected the Pentagon and the Afghan ministry of defense to begin talks in the near future on implementing the Afghan request. "I can't say how long these negotiations will take—days, weeks or months," Mr. Faizi said.
Karzai spoke Friday with the families of civilians killed by a U.S. soldier.
Under existing transition plans, U.S. forces already are scheduled to transition from combat to a support and advisory role next year, ahead of transferring all security responsibilities to the Afghans in 2014. A senior U.S. official said Sunday that the U.S. was not making any changes to deployment and campaign plans following Mr. Karzai's statement.
American officials were puzzled last by week by what Mr. Karzai actually meant when he called for a pullout from villages. Some speculated that he simply wanted to dismantle small village outposts such as the one where the alleged shooter in Kandahar province was based.
Mr. Faizi, however, said that the Afghan president's demand was much broader, and included an end to military operations in villages in addition to moving forces from small outposts.
"It's about everything happening in the villages," Mr. Faizi said, adding that coalition troops could remain in larger bases located in district centers.
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A version of this article appeared Mar. 18, 2012, on page A10 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Karzai's Call for U.S. Pullout Is Toned Down.
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