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Karzai mulling earlier presidential election

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he's considering moving the election for his successor up by a year to avoid complicating the drawdown of U.S.-led NATO forces due to be completed by the end of 2014.

It remained unclear, however, whether Karzai would shift the contest to 2013, because that would apparently require him to resign before his second five-year term ends in May 2014.

Abdullah Ahmadzai, a senior official with the country's Independent Election Commission, told McClatchy Newspapers that there are no provisions in the Afghan constitution for holding an early presidential election and that only Karzai's resignation could clear the way.

"There is one provision in the law and that is if the president resigns. Upon his resignation, an early election can be held. Otherwise, we don't see a legal way for it," Ahmadzai said.

Some U.S. officials and independent experts have been concerned about holding the election in 2014 at the same time that most U.S.-led international troops are expected to be leaving. Such a convergence, they worry, would create an operational and logistical nightmare that places undue stress on Afghan security forces in their battle to contain the Taliban-led insurgency.

The 2009 presidential election and 2010 parliamentary contests saw major surges in insurgent attacks, but there were more than 100,000 international troops on hand to back up Afghan security forces.

Karzai, appearing at a news conference with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the president's fortified palace, voiced his own concerns over holding the presidential election as the bulk of the U.S.-led NATO contingent leaves.

"With all the changes that are taking place with the complete return of international forces to their homes from Afghanistan and the holding of a presidential election at the same time," Karzai said, there are questions over "whether that will be an agenda that we can handle."

Karzai -- who has led Afghanistan for more than a decade -- is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in the election currently scheduled for March 2014.

As yet, there are no officially declared candidates seeking to succeed Karzai. Among the possible contenders are Karzai's older brother, Abdul Qayum Karzai, and Ali Ahmad Jalali, who served as the country's second post-Taliban interior minister. Both are U.S. citizens.

Karzai said he hasn't yet made a final decision on whether to move up the election.

The United States and its allies plan to withdraw most of their remaining 130,000 troops by the end of 2014 at the conclusion of a phased transition of security responsibilities to Afghan security forces. Some 10,000 U.S. forces left last year, and an additional 20,000 are due to go home this year.