KABUL, Afghanistan — In his final address to Afghanistan's Parliament on Saturday, President Hamid Karzai told the United States its soldiers can leave at the end of the year because his military, which already protects 93 percent of the country, was ready to take over entirely.
He reiterated his stance that he would not sign a pact with the United States that would provide for a residual force of U.S. troops to remain behind after the final withdrawal, unless peace could first be established.
The Afghan president has come under heavy pressure to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, with a council of notables that he himself convened recommending that he sign the pact. The force would train and mentor Afghan troops, and some U.S. Special Forces would also be left behind to hunt down al-Qaida.
All 10 candidates seeking the presidency in April 5 elections have said they would sign the security agreement. But Karzai himself does not appear to want his legacy to include a commitment to a longer foreign troop presence in his country.
Karzai was brought to power in the wake of the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban and subsequently won two presidential elections — in 2004 and again in 2009. But he has in recent years espoused a combative nationalism, with his hourlong speech Saturday no exception.
Karzai told Parliament, which was holding its opening session for this term, that security forces were strong enough to defend Afghanistan without the help of international troops.
He will step down after the presidential elections. Under the constitution, he is banned from seeking a third term.
Throughout his speech Karzai spoke of his accomplishments over the past 12 years, saying schools were functioning, rights were being given to women, energy projects were coming online and the Afghan currency had been stabilized. He said that when he first took power his country was isolated and nothing was functioning.