Unified Afghan Government a Reason to Slow Troop Drawdown: Carter

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A more hopeful outlook for Afghan democracy is the key reason the Obama administration is considering slowing down its troop withdrawal and rethinking the scope of its counterterrorism mission here, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Saturday.

No decisions have been made, but President Barack Obama will discuss a range of options for slowing the U.S. military exit when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits the White House next month, Carter said at a joint news conference with Ghani at the Presidential Palace.

The "common denominator" in the new thinking about the U.S. military mission is a belief in Washington that the formation of a unity government in Kabul last year has opened new possibilities for progress not only on the political front but also in the security arena, Carter said.

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He said the unity government of Ashraf and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah offers new promise for a more effective partnership with Washington in stabilizing the country.

U.S. officials grew impatient with former President Hamid Karzai, who sometimes publicly criticized the U.S. military and took a dimmer view of partnering with the U.S.

"That's a major change," Carter said, "... that just a few months ago we couldn't have planned on."

Obama's current plan calls for troop levels to be cut in half from the present 10,000 by the end of this year and reduced to nearly zero by the end of 2016, while maintaining a security cooperation office in Kabul. Ghani has made it known he thinks that should be slowed down in order to better support Afghan forces battling a resilient Taliban insurgency.

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— The Associated Press