KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday thatAfghanistan would not be able to pay for its own security until at least 2024, underscoring his government’s long-term financial dependence on the United States and NATO even as President Obamahas pledged to begin withdrawing American troops in 2011.Mr. Karzai spoke at a news conference here with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who did not put a timetable on the American and allied financial commitment but acknowledged that there was a “realism on our part that it will be some time before Afghanistan is able to sustain its security forces entirely on its own.”...
...But while civilian casualties continue to anger Afghan officials, Mr. Karzai’s comments on Tuesday highlighted just how much the government could be forced to rely on the United States and other NATO countries for decades to come.
“For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources,” Mr. Karzai said, referring to the force required to secure the entire country.
The subject was one of the main reasons that Mr. Gates arrived here Tuesday on an unannounced visit. He said a major topic of discussion with Mr. Karzai would be how fast the Afghans could recruit, train and retain their own security forces, the key to the planned American withdrawal that is supposed to begin in July 2011.
The price of building up Afghan forces to take over significant security duties could be enormous. Some estimates say it will take up to $50 billion over five years to increase army and police rolls to 400,000, the level sought by General McChrystal.
At the news conference, Mr. Gates held out the possibility that a future improvement in Afghanistan’s finances would defray some of the costs.
“Whether that is 15 or 20 years, we’ll hope for accelerated economic development in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that “as the Afghan economy expands, then the proportion of the costs of supporting the Afghan security forces will diminish.”
He also said there was a possibility that the size of Afghan security forces could shrink, “as is often the case after the end of a conflict.”