Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has irked Washington with his frequent criticism of American military operations in his country, said Thursday that his government is ready to let the U.S. have nine bases in Afghanistan after most foreign troops withdraw in 2014.
A border spat with Pakistan and a desire to test public opinion led Karzai to break months of public silence on this issue, according to Afghan analysts. They said Karzai is concerned that Pakistan is using the Taliban to give it greater leverage, and that he wants to find out if Afghans, tired of 12 years of war, will support that size of a U.S. military footprint.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the U.S. “does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.” The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 would be “only at the request of the Afghan government,” he said.
Carney wouldn’t say whether the U.S. was perhaps seeking a temporary presence on nine bases. An American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss negotiations, said that he’d not heard the number nine previously. Karzai said that’s how many bases the U.S. had requested.
“We are giving the bases, nine bases they want from Afghanistan — in all of Afghanistan,” he said.
Afghanistan wants a U.S. commitment to boost Afghan security, strengthen its armed forces and give long-term economic development assistance.