KABUL, Afghanistan — President Ashraf Ghani’s first visit to Washington on Sunday highlights the marked improvement in U.S.-Afghan relations in the six months since he succeeded Hamid Karzai, who in recent years was openly disdainful of the country’s chief backer.
Washington is rolling out the red carpet for Ghani and his government’s chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah, who was Ghani’s rival in the contentious elections and joined the Cabinet as part of a U.S.-brokered power-sharing deal.
Underscoring the thaw in relations, President Barack Obama is expected to agree to Ghani’s request to slow the pace of withdrawal of U.S. troops over the next two years to allow more time to train and equip the Afghan army and police.
“The more focus there is on empowerment of Afghan forces, the more successful they will be in the field,” said Naqibullah Safi, a former general and now a member of the national parliament. “Afghan forces can do this work better than U.S. troops because they understand the situation on the ground better, but they need to be equipped and trained properly.”
The Afghan army and police are almost 10 times bigger than the Taliban’s estimated 35,000 fighters, according to unofficial NATO reports. But many observers fear that the government forces, plagued by low morale and a high desertion rate, could be defeated without the support of NATO instructors — just as the Iraqi Army was last year when it faced an offensive by Islamic State militants.