WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is seriously considering speeding up the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan because of frustration with President Hamid Karzai, the New York Times reported.
And a so called 'zero option' - having no US troops in Afghanistan after 2014 - is also on the cards, the daily said late Monday, quoting US and European officials.
US President Barack Obama is committed to ending the US military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and his administration has been negotiating with Kabul about leaving behind a "residual force."
But Obama's relationship with Karzai has been deteriorating and suffered a big and new blow last month with an effort by the United States to open peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
Karzai opposed the talks, and halted negotiations with the Americans on a long-term security deal needed to keep US forces in Afghanistan after 2014, the Times said.
To defuse tensions, the two presidents spoke by videoconference on June 27 but it went badly, the paper said, quoting American and Afghan officials familiar with the exchange.
They said Karzai accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan. Karzai felt this would leave his country exposed to its enemies.
No decision has been made on the pace of the US pullout or how many US troops to leave behind, the report said. Officials say the goal is still to reach a long term security deal.
But negotiating stances are hardening, the Times quoted officials as saying.
"There has always been a zero option, but it was not seen as the main option," said one senior Western official in Kabul. "It is now becoming one of them, and if you listen to some people in Washington, it is maybe now being seen as a realistic path." The official added however that he hoped the Afghans were beginning to realise that the zero option is a distinct possibility.
Currently, half of the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan are set to exit by February, and the newly-trained Afghan army and police are increasingly taking the lead in the security battle.