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Afghanistan rejects grim U.S. intelligence forecast as baseless

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai addresses media representatives during a press interaction in New Delhi December 14, 2013. Karzai is on
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai addresses media representatives during a press interaction in New Delhi December 14, 2013. Karzai is on

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan on Monday rejected as baseless a U.S. intelligence forecast that the gains the United States and allies have made in the past three years will be significantly rolled back by 2017.

The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate also predicted that Afghanistan would fall into chaos if Washington and Kabul failed to sign a pact to keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman dismissed the U.S. forecast, reported by the Washington Post on the weekend, and suggested there was an ulterior motive for it.

"We strongly reject that as baseless as they have in the past been proved inaccurate," Faizi told Reuters.

Relations between Afghanistan and the United States have grown seriously strained recently by Karzai's refusal to sign the security pact that would permit some U.S. forces to stay.

U.S. officials have said that unless a deal is reached to keep perhaps 8,000 U.S. troops, the Taliban might stage a major comeback and al Qaeda could regain safe havens.

The pact must also be signed for the United States and its allies to provide billions more dollars in aid.

Without a deal, the United States could pull out all troops, the so-called zero option, leaving Afghan forces to battle the Taliban on their own.

The United States has set a Tuesday deadline for Afghanistan to sign the pact but the White House has said it is prepared to let the deadline slip until early January.

The U.S. intelligence estimate predicted setbacks even if some U.S. troops remained. But some U.S. officials felt the forecast was overly pessimistic, the Washington Post said.

LAND FOR PEACE?

Faizi suggested the leaking of the gloomy U.S. intelligence report was part of bid to press Karzai into granting the Taliban control of some areas as part of a peace moves.

"If it's a design to hand over parts of Afghanistan to the Taliban, we will never allow that and it will never succeed," Faizi said. "The Taliban can only come back through a political process."

Efforts over the past couple of years to bring the Taliban into peace talks have come to nothing. The insurgents, fighting to expel foreign forces and set up an Islamist state, denounce Karzai as a U.S. "puppet".

Karzai recently said certain foreigners had been asking him to give up control of some areas to get peace talks going.

"Foreigners told us recently to hand over or give away some areas to the Taliban, and from where a peace process could begin," Karzai told reporters at a briefing last week.

He did not identify the foreigners.

Karzai also denied having reached agreement with the United States on the wording of contentious clauses in the U.S. security pact. But he added that the "zero-option" was an empty threat.

"The U.S. won't go and I have realized that," he said.

"Look at all those buildings and bases they have built in Bagram, Helmand and their embassy compound," Karzai said, referring to a big air base north of Kabul and a violence-plagued southern province.

(Writing by Jessica Donati; Editng by Robert Birsel)

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