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Barack Obama: priority will be training Afghans

Arrangements for the troop withdrawals dominated talks at the White House

President Barack Obama has revealed that the primary responsibility for security will shift this spring to Afghanistan’s own forces, while the US could contemplate keeping a limited presence on the ground beyond the end of 2014 when the drawdown of coalition troops is due to be completed.

Arrangements for the troop withdrawals dominated talks at the White House between Mr Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“Starting this spring our troops will have a different mission: training, advising and assisting Afghan forces,” Mr Obama said. “It will be a historic moment.”  Mr Obama stressed that any US role in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014 would require a guarantee of immunity from prosecution under the country’s laws.  Mr Karzai voiced his support though he is due to step down after presidential elections next year. In an effort to answer Afghan sensibilities about regaining full sovereignty, Mr Obama agreed that all detention centres run by the coalition and the detainees inside them would be returned to Afghan control.

Mr Obama said it was too soon to say whether the earlier than expected handover of first responsibility to the Afghans would mean an acceleration in the timetable to bring 60,000 US troops home.  Nor is there yet any clear indication of how large a contingent of US troops might the US might leave behind.