Kerry in Kabul to Discuss Security, Taliban Amid Frictions

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul today to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with whom he’ll discuss the conditions for any U.S. troops to remain beyond 2014, the outlook for peace talks with the Taliban and the security and economic transition.

Kerry’s visit, his first as the top U.S. diplomat, was not announced in advance for security reasons. The trip comes on the heels of a series of disputes between the two nations over the transfer of detainees to Afghan custody, the expulsion of U.S. Special Forces from a restive area and Karzai’s recent accusation that the U.S. was colluding with the Taliban to stoke violence in his country.

Kerry has met Karzai five times in the last four years and they have a good working relationship, according to U.S. officials speaking to reporters traveling with Kerry. They asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issues. Kerry has not come to lecture Karzai and wants a frank and open discussion, officials said.

U.S. and Afghan officials are seeking to redefine the terms of their relationship in advance of the planned withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops by the end of 2014. President Barack Obama has yet to say how many non-combat troops may keep in Afghanistan after next year to support and train Afghans. The two countries are in talks over the status of those that stay.

Hagel Visit

The U.S. and Afghanistan yesterday agreed that prisoners at the Parwan detention facility outside Kabul will be turned over to the Afghans today. The agreement will remove one element of discord in U.S.-Afghan relations, assuming it holds and Karzai doesn’t free certain prisoners the U.S. considers likely to engage in terrorist acts.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s first visit to Afghanistan in his official capacity earlier this month was marred by Karzai’s assertion in a speech that the U.S. was holding peace talks with the Taliban and that suicide attacks by radical Islamists were in the “service of America.”

The allegations drew an angry response from U.S. lawmakers, including Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, who said the comments reinforced his view that U.S. troops should be brought home faster.

The U.S is currently trying to exit a war it’s been waging for more than 11 years at a cost of 2,170 American lives so far. President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of 34,000 of about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by February. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that the drawdown will occur in stages, with the force dropping to 50,000 by November, after the summer fighting season, and then to 34,000 by February.

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