KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry Thursday further signaled that a strong American military presence will remain in Afghanistan long after July 2011, when President Obama plans to end his troop surge.
Speaking at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Relations before a group of diplomats, non-governmental organizations and Afghan citizens, Eikenberry drove home the Obama administration's sometimes contradictory message.
To the Afghan government: act with urgency. To the Afghan people: We will not abandon you.
"After eight years of assistance to Afghanistan, many Americans and many members of Congress are impatient to see results," he said, while assuring that "our military commitment will not end or decline even as our combat forces [withdraw]."
Eikenberry suggested that the July 2011 date for beginning a U.S. troop drawdown is flexible.
"This is not a deadline despite what some people in the United States and Afghanistan have said," Eikenberry said. He added that American withdraw in 18 months is "entirely based on the conditions that exist at that time."
Eikenberry's remarks come two days before Afghan President Hamid Karzai is likely to submit his second-term cabinet officials to his legislature — an event that will be watched closely by U.S. officials in the country to see how serious Karzai is about stopping corruption.
Earlier this week at an anti-corruption conference in Kabul, Karzai defended Kabul Mayor Abdul Ahad Sayebi, who was convicted last week and sentenced to four years in prison for corruption-related charges.
"I know the mayor," Karzai said. "He is a clean person."
Sayebi, after posting bail, attended the anti-corruption conference. Karzai appointed Sayebi as mayor of Kabul. Eikenberry declined to comment on Sayebi's conviction and Karzai's response to it, saying only that he would "let the justice system proceed and determine the results."