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Kabul Says 'Nothing New' In Request To U.S. To Pull Back To Bases

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a meeting with the family members of civilians killed by a U.S. soldier in Kandahar last week at the presidential palace in Kabul.
KABUL -- Afghanistan says there is "nothing new" in a demand by President Hamid Karzai for U.S. troops to leave villages and withdraw to their bases.

Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on March 17 that the request was part of Karzai's long-held position.

"The stance of the Islamic government of Afghanistan and the position of the Afghan president personally for years has been that foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan's rural areas and villages and return to their bases where they are needed," Faizi said.

"Because after 10 years we are now certain that our country's security forces can provide the security for the daily life of Afghan people."

U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke by telephone on March 16 about putting Afghan forces increasingly in charge of Afghanistan's security during 2013.

The White House says they "affirmed" that they "share the goal" of shifting the lead for combat operations to Afghan forces, with U.S. troops in support, during 2013. It says they are committed to transferring full security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

The two also agreed to talk further about Karzai's call for foreign troops to be withdrawn from Afghan villages.

Timing Of Handover To Change?

U.S. officials say Karzai's statement was "consistent" with an agreed timetable, but it has provoked widespread concern that NATO's combat operations would be in jeopardy, two years before the scheduled withdrawal of most troops.

Following the March 11 massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier, Karzai called for a speedier transfer. Obama has invited Karzai to a Chicago NATO summit in May where the alliance is to define the next transition phase.

A U.S. official identified the soldier as U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who was being sent to the Fort Leavenworth army base in Kansas to be held in maximum-security detention.

Bales, a 38-year-old married father of two, has not yet been charged in the incident.

Karzai: U.S. Not Cooperating

Earlier, Karzai accused the Pentagon of failing to fully cooperated with an Afghan-led probe into the killings.

"The army chief has just reported, I don't know if you read his report, that the Afghan investigation team did not receive the cooperation that they expected from the United States. Therefore, these are all questions that we will be raising and raising very loudly and raising very clearly," Karzai said.

Karzai met with village elders and families of the victims of the shooting and seemed to back what many of them believe that a single gunman could not have killed so many people.

"On the question of the account of the one person, supposedly, who has done this, the story of the village elders and the affected is entirely different. They believe it is not possible for one person to do that," Karzai said.

Karzai said his government would not ask for compensation, but demanded that justice be served.

With AFP, AP, and Reuters reporting