The U.S. is threatening to pull all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, after an apparent deal reached by American and Afghan delegates has been hung up by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's insistence it be signed after the upcoming Afghan elections in April.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice traveled to Afghanistan over the weekend for what U.S. officials said was a previously planned trip to meet with and thank U.S. forces there. Her trip coincided with what appeared to be the final stages of the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA.
She met directly with Karzai Monday after a general assembly of Afghan tribal leaders known as the Loya Jirga endorsed a deal that would leave thousands of U.S. and NATO troops behind after 2014 only to train and assist the fledgling Afghan forces.
"Ambassador Rice stressed that we have concluded negotiations and that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's elections is not viable," the White House said in a readout of Rice's meeting with Karzai. The White House said that would not give the U.S. and NATO enough time to plan the drawdown.
It would also relegate the Afghans to an uncertain future, Rice said, and put at risk the aid pledged by foreign governments to Afghanistan at the 2012 Chicago and Tokyo conferences.
"Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan," the White House said.
Karzai said he is not willing to sign the BSA promptly, according to the White House.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also urged Karzai to sign on to the agreement, citing the logistics hurdles facing the Pentagon.
"We're not trying to put ourselves in some position to impose dates or mandates; it's just a practical dynamic of the planning our forces have to make," he told USA Today in an interview. He said making the deal by year's end is imperative, adding Afghans have to want it more than the U.S.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren said Monday uncertainty over the BSA makes it difficult for the military to plan for the future.
"We want it closed," he said. "The American government [and] the Afghanistan people want it, so Karzai needs to sign it."
The Wall Street Journal reports Karzai stunned the Loya Jirga last week with his announcement that he would not sign a BSA until after the April 4, 2014, elections where Afghans will select Karzai's successor. He expressed fears the U.S. would meddle in the electoral process.
"The president said that the BSA will be signed," said Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi, according to the Journal. "But you have to give the Afghan people time to see that the U.S. has changed its behavior [and] that there will be change in practical terms: no more raids on Afghan homes, no more killings of Afghan civilians by American forces and that the peace process is launched."
Some influential U.S. lawmakers have indicated their willingness to reach a deal with Afghanistan is finite.
"President Karzai needs to understand that the American people's patience with him is not unlimited," tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He later tweeted, "President Karzai's refusal to sign the bilateral security agreement is a mistake."
Following a collapse of negotiations with the Iraqi government in 2011, the U.S. announced in October it would complete a full withdrawal and successfully pulled out all U.S. forces and assets by December. Much of that equipment was transferred to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Similar stockpiles in Afghanistan would have to be transported back to the U.S., destroyed or given to the Afghans or another foreign government.
Iraq has subsequently descended into extreme sectarian violence.