International

Karzai insists US troops can leave Afghanistan by year's end

In final address to parliament, outgoing president says Afghan forces are capable of defending country on their own

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

The outgoing president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has told the United States in his final address to parliament that US soldiers can leave the country at the end of the year.

Karzai said on Saturday that his military was ready to take over because it already protected 93 percent of the country, and were strong enough to defend Afghanistan without assistance.

Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement with the US, which would allow US forces to remain in the country from 2015 and beyond, and said he would not do so until peace is achieved.

All 10 presidential candidates for the April 5 election have said they would sign the security agreement if elected. But Karzai does not want his legacy to include a commitment to extending a foreign military presence.

"I want to say to all those foreign countries who, maybe out of habit, or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere," Karzai said.

He added that the war in Afghanistan was "imposed" on his nation and told the US that it could bring peace to Afghanistan if it went after "terrorist sanctuaries" and countries that supported "terrorism", a reference to Pakistan.

Tense relations

During Saturday's speech, the Afghan president urged Taliban fighters to join the peace process, but also accused Pakistan of protecting the Taliban's leadership.

Karzai also suggested that Pakistan was behind the killing of a Taliban leader who supported the peace process. The suggestion was an apparent reference to Mawlawi Abdul Raqib, who was shot dead in Pakistan's Peshawar last month. No one has taken responsibility for the killing.

Karzai also spoke of his accomplishments over the past 12 years, saying schools were functioning, rights were given to women, energy projects were coming online and the Afghanistan currency had stabilised.

"I know the future president will protect these gains and priorities and will do the best for peace in the country and I, as an Afghan citizen, will support peace and will cooperate," he said.

Karzai will step down after next month's presidential elections. Under Afghanistan's constitution, he is banned from seeking a third term.

The Associated Press

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