Kerry Seeks New Afghan President by End-August in Kabul Visit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul today to lay out a road map for Afghanistan to complete a vote audit and inaugurate a new president by the end of the month, a U.S. official said.

The U.S. wants either Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai sworn in before a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Wales on Sept. 4-5, a State Department official told reporters traveling with Kerry. The president can then request funding for Afghan security forces, said the official, who asked not to be identified because of State Department rules.

“The secretary will follow-up on his July visit to Kabul and his subsequent phone calls to the candidates,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. He’ll also encourage them to accelerate the vote audit and make progress on a power-sharing agreement reached during Kerry’s visit last month, she said.

Time is running short for the U.S. and Afghanistan to sign a pact that would keep American troops in the war-torn country beyond this year. Failure to reach a deal would raise concerns that Afghanistan would go the way of Iraq, where militants have made gains against government forces after a U.S. withdrawal.

The political agreement would have the losing candidate control a newly created chief executive officer who would report to the president, the State Department official said. The CEO role would eventually become an executive prime minister after constitutional changes are approved, the official said, without providing details on the timeframe.

Kerry will also meet President Hamid Karzai and Jan Kubis, the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, who helped broker the agreement between Ghani and Abdullah that averted a crisis after a disputed result from a June 14 election.

Vote Audit

About 2,400, or 10 percent, of the 23,000 ballot boxes have been counted so far, the official said. Ghani was the leader in an initial announced vote tally when Abdullah disputed the results as fraudulent and claimed victory, prompting the U.S. to warn both sides against staging a coup.

Abdullah and Ghani have vowed to sign a pact to retain U.S. troops beyond this year and secure billions of dollars in aid money for Asia’s poorest country. Foreign grants pay for about 50 percent of the Afghan government’s expenditures, according to World Bank estimates.

President Barack Obama is reviewing security measures after an Afghan soldier this month shot dead the highest ranking U.S. military officer in 13 years of war. Obama plans to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of this year, with only a small force at the embassy by the end of 2016, when he will be preparing to leave office.

Thirteen years of the U.S. fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has cost 2,338 American lives so far, as of July 29. Afghan civilian casualties rose 24 percent in the first half of 2014 from the same period a year earlier, according to a report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kabul.

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