Afghan reset? President Obama invites unity leaders to White House

Afghan reset? President Obama invites unity leaders to White House
As President Barack Obama looks to improve relations with Afghanistan, he has extended White House invitations to the leaders of the country’s new government, both of whom will visit early next year.

The invitation was extended during a video conference on Wednesday between the new Afghan leaders – President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah – and President Obama, reported Reuters. A previous invitation to the White House was also included in Obama’s congratulatory letters to the men when they took office last month, according to the Associated Press.

During the conversation, the unity leaders discussed strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces, US and regional support for an Afghan-led peace process, budgetary reforms and the country’s long-term fiscal outlook.

Obama commended the leaders on completing their first month of their US-supported unity government. The power-sharing arrangement settled months of tension between Ghani and Abdullah, since both had sought the presidency.

READ MORE:America’s $7.6 billion war on Afghan drugs fails, opium production peaksAfghan president-elect Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

One day after his inauguration, President Ghani signed a much-delayed security deal with the US on September 30.

"As an independent country, based on our national interests, we signed this agreement for stability, goodwill, and prosperity of our people, stability of the region and the world," Ghani said in a speech after the signing, according to Reuters.

Under the terms of the Bilateral Security Agreement, the US will significantly reduce the number of soldiers involved in the post-9/11 Operation Enduring Freedom at the end of this year. Troop numbers will shrink to 10,000, signaling a major step towards ending the war in Afghanistan — a campaign promise made by Obama during the lead-up to his re-election in 2012.

READ MORE:Afghan, US officials sign long-awaited pact to ensure troops stay past 2014

The pact between the United States and Afghanistan was in danger of falling apart under former President Hamid Karzai, who rejected key provisions of it. One provision granted the US authority to carry out military operations within the country, including the searches of civilian homes. Karzai was opposed to the raids as they had resulted in civilian deaths, but the US said they would allow it to continue operations targeting Al-Qaeda and anti-government forces.

Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan (AFP Photo / Pool / Jawad Jalali)

Karzai was also against a provision granting American military personnel immunity from prosecution under Afghan law during their stay in the country.

READ MORE:Karzai refuses to sign security pact until 'US brings peace' despite assembly backing

The Taliban was critical of the pact and called it a “sinister” plot by Washington to control Afghanistan after it was signed by the new Afghan leadership.

"Under the name of the security agreement, today Americans want to prepare themselves for another non-obvious and very dangerous fight," the Taliban said in a statement emailed to the media at the time, Reuters reported. "With their bulk of artifices and deceptions they want to hoodwink the people. They think the Afghan people do not know about their conspiracies and their sinister goals."

READ MORE:Longest in US history: Afghan War turns 13, US military deaths grow 4-fold under Obama

The financial toll of the Afghan war on the US treasury could range from $4 trillion to $6 trillion, according to research published last year out of Harvard University.