- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2015

Obama administration officials say they expect a high-profile visit from President Ashraf Ghani right before the Taliban fighting season begins in early spring.

Mr. Ghani will arrive in Washington D.C., possibly in March, one Pentagon official said. That is about the time of year that Taliban insurgents are known to launch attacks on police, politicians and government checkpoints.

A senior U.S. official confirmed to The Washington Times that the administration is expecting Mr. Ghani “to visit soon,” but refrained from setting a time frame for the visit.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the Afghan president’s travel agenda.

The Embassy of Afghanistan did not immediately return a request for confirmation of Mr. Ghani’s travel plans.

This will be Mr. Ghani’s first trip to the United States following his Sept. 29 inauguration, which sparked an increase in Taliban attacks. The visit is significant because Mr. Ghani, who pledged during his campaign to fight corruption in return for Western funds and military backing, recently suggested during a “60 Minutes” interview that President Obama review his timeline for pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

“Deadlines concentrate the mind. But deadlines should not be dogmas,” Mr. Ghani said during the Jan. 4 interview. “If both parties or, in this case, multiple partners, have done their best to achieve the objectives and progress is very real, then there should be willingness to re-examine a deadline.”

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told Reuters on Jan. 5 that the drawdown plan remains in effect and that there have been no changes to its timeline.

One national security analyst warned in November that the Taliban were “in pretty good shape to make a stunning comeback after the West leaves.” That analyst, Foundation for Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow Thomas Joscelyn, said that after a decade of U.S.-led warfare, the Taliban was poised to gain traction in certain provinces of Afghanistan, possibly with the backing of corrupt politicians and Pakistan allies.

“They’ve already been providing broad support for the Taliban, even with the U.S. there,” said Mr. Joscelyn, editor of The Long War Journal. “With the U.S. drawing out of the region, that’s only going to increase.”

The Obama administration has maintained since May 2014 that the United States expected to reduce its presence in the country to 9,800 troops in 2015, roughly half that number by the end of the year, and eventually wind down to “a normal embassy presence” in 2016.

Reuters reported earlier this month that Mr. Obama has shifted his stance on Afghanistan since that time. In late 2014 Mr. Obama increased the military personnel plan from 9,800 to 10,800.

He also quietly authorized a third exception, allowing U.S. troops to act to save Afghan forces “in extremis” from being overwhelmed by the Taliban, according to Reuters.

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