US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014: Panetta

United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (R) talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to the Presidential Palace on March 15, 2012 in Kabul, Afghanistan. 
Pentagon chief says he is ‘confident’ that the United States and Afghanistan would work out a treaty allowing the US military to stay longer in the country beyond the withdrawal deadline of 2014.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday, the US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the situation in Afghanistan will change once the two countries sign the strategic pact.

During the meeting Karzai urged visiting Panetta to accelerate the handover of security to the country’s army and police forces, and let Afghans take the lead responsibility one year earlier than previously planned.

“The Afghan government is ready to take overall security responsibility,” Karzai said.

Panetta’s visit comes after a US trooper on Sunday shot dead more than 16 Afghan civilians inside their homes-- most of them women and children -- in southern province of Kandahar.

On Wednesday, Panetta held talks with provincial leaders and also addressed around 200 US Marines and other troops in a tent at Camp Leatherneck, who were suddenly asked by their commander to get up, place their weapons outside the tent and then return unarmed.

Anti-American sentiments in Afghanistan have also risen due to the desecration of the Holy Qur’an in a US-run military airbase last month.

The latest string of incidents has further strained relations between Washington and Kabul.



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