View Original / Defense One / 22 Nov 2013
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Afghanistan must decide by the end of the year whether to sign a deal to keep U.S. troops there or the military will not be able to plan for a post-2014 presence.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to a U.S.-Afghan deal that was reached on Wednesday and sent it to the loya jirga, a group of Afghan elders, for final approval. But the next day he abruptly told them not to sign it until presidential elections are held next April.
“I think it would put the United States in a very, very difficult decision,” Hagel said on Thursday of Karzai’s stall tactic. “Until we have a signed bilateral security agreement that essentially gives us then the assurance that we need to go forward, I don’t think the president is going to commit to anything. He’s said that, and my advice to him would be to not. We need to be sure that our forces in any future role there are protected.”
U.S. and Afghan negotiators had finalized the bilateral security agreement on Wednesday that would allow a small force of U.S. and NATO troops to stay until at least 2024. The deal was expected to be ratified by the loya jirga by the end of the month.
“I look forward to seeing that BSA agreed to and signed by the end of the year,” Hagel said forcefully, speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to a security conference of NATO defense ministers and other officials in Halifax, Canada.
“If this issue rolls into next year, it is going to be very difficult for my responsibilities, along with our military, to go beyond just the planning stages. I mean, this was a big operation, to position assets and rotations and commitments.”
“We need to have that agreement signed by the end of the year,” Hagel said, and the president agrees. “He’s been clear on he can’t make any commitments or define any future role in troop numbers post-2014 until we have that.” Hagel said Australian officials asked about the plan on Wednesday, with equal concern.
Hagel said that he was with Secretary of State John Kerry all day Thursday and the two men have had “non-stop conversations over the last few days” about Afghanistan. Hagel said he would not predict how a delay until April would effect next year’s fighting, instead sending a message to Karzai of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
Hagel said he respects Karzai’s sovereign authority. “At the same time, this country, the United States of America has done a tremendous amount of good. Our troops, their sacrifices, our treasure has helped the people of Afghanistan a lot, the last ten, twelve years. We want to continue to do that.”