October 23, 2014 / 12:09 PM / 4 years ago

Obama invites new Afghan leaders to White House

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama, keen to reset relations with Afghanistan that soured under longtime president Hamid Karzai, has invited the leaders of Afghanistan’s new unity government to visit the White House early next year.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking during a meeting with Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain (not pictured) with Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain (not pictured) and members of his team coordinating the government's Ebola response in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington October 22, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The new Afghan leadership comes at a crucial time as American combat troops draw down after 13 years and a remaining U.S. force of about 10,000 shifts to a support role for Afghan security forces taking over the fight against Taliban insurgents.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s new chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, spoke with Obama via video conference on Wednesday night, a White House statement said.

Obama congratulated the two former rivals on forming their unity government, which was sworn in last month after a prolonged election dispute in which both candidates claimed victory.

He reiterated an invitation to the U.S. for both leaders that was made in a letter soon after the government was formed.

Obama discussed ways to strengthen the Afghan police and army as well as budget reforms to shore up the cash-strapped Kabul government’s finances.

Reporting by Kay Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie

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