WASHINGTON--With no sign of a deal for a post 2014 security agreement with Afghanistan on the horizon, President Obama on Tuesday offered a blunt warning to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai that time is running out to forge a deal to keep U.S. troops beyond the end of the year.
Obama, who spoke by phone with Karzai on Tuesday, said he asked the Pentagon to ensure that plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the two countries not forge a new bilateral security agreement (BSA).
"President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA, the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning," the White House said in a statement.
Obama, however, also told Karzai that if a BSA can be reached, he remains ready to keep a contingency of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to focus on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda.
While the White House said a deal can still be reach this year, they suggested the longer negotiations go on the smaller the U.S. presence may be.
"The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission," Obama said. "Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that the Pentagon has begun planning for a complete withdraw of troops by year's end.
"This is a prudent step given that President Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would provide DoD personnel with critical protections and authorities after 2014," Hagel said in a statement.
Last year, Hagel said military planners needed to know by Jan. 1 if an agreement would allow U.S. troops to stay in the country past 2014.
He later hedged on that, saying there was some flexibility in planning. Tuesday's announcement is the first public indication that the U.S. military is moving to leave the country completely after 13 years of war. There are about 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The lack of a similar agreement in Iraq led to the complete withrdawal of U.S. troops from that country at the end of 2011.