WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama met top Afghanistan war advisors with US plans for a post-2014 military force in limbo over President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a security agreement.
President Obama met Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Marine General Joseph Dunford, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as he deliberates on the pace of US troop drawdowns and future strategy.
Karzai has infuriated Washington by declining to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA), which would allow some US troops to remain behind on a training mission when American and allied combat missions end at the end of the year.
The White House has warned that if he does not sign soon, it will have to begin preparing to leave no troops behind in the country. “As each day passes and we move further into this calendar year it becomes more imperative that the Afghan government sign the agreement that was negotiated in good faith so that NATO and the United States can make plans for a post-2014 troop presence,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The White House says Obama has so far made no decisions about how many American troops would remain behind to advise the still fledgling Afghan armed forces.
But it has made clear it is not prepared to wait out Karzai’s last few months in office to sign the BSA after elections that will not likely identify the next Afghan president until late May. “This has to be a matter of weeks,” Carney said.
The State Department meanwhile said that Dunford and James Dobbins, the US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, would travel to Brussels and Berlin in the next few days to consult NATO allies.
The United States had earlier pushed for the BSA to be signed by the end of October so that the NATO military coalition could schedule the withdrawal of its troops.
Karzai has said that before he signs the BSA, the United States must foster a genuine peace process with Taliban militants.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Afghan leader had been engaging in private contacts with the Taliban - without the involvement of the United States or its Western allies.
The paper said that the contacts had made no progress so far.