WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The question of when and whether to withdraw U.S. troops training village police has stirred controversy between top Afghan and U.S. leaders, officials say.
The United States says the program keeps Afghans safe while Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the presence of the troops invites attacks on the villages, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama last week pledged to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghan villages. Top Afghan officials said they understood that to mean that Special Operations forces training villagers as part of the 18,500-strong Afghan Local Police would all be pulled out.
U.S. officials, however, said the trainers are critical to security in Afghanistan and assumed those forces would be exempted.
Creation of the local police was approved by Karzai but he long has considered the presence of Western forces in Afghan villages a source of instability and tension. He has said the foreign troops could be replaced with an all-Afghan force.
Both sides Monday seemed open to negotiations. Afghan Ambassador to the United States Eklil Hakimi appeared to contradict Karzai's opposition.
Trainers could stay in the villages, he told reporters, but "Afghans will be in the lead."