Obama Plan Would Pull All Troops From Afghanistan by the End of 2014

As Karzai refuses to sign the security agreement, the president is making contingency arrangements.

U.S. Marines walk on top of their Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) while on patrol near the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 16, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Feb. 25, 2014, 7:30 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama is ready­ing a con­tin­gency plan that would have the U.S. with­draw all troops from Afgh­anistan by year’s end.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says the plan is be­ing pre­pared as a re­sponse to Afghan Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai’s con­tin­ued re­fus­al to sign a bind­ing se­cur­ity agree­ment between the two coun­tries. Obama called Kar­zai on Tues­day to in­form him of the con­tin­gency plan.

If Kar­zai were to sign the se­cur­ity agree­ment, it would pave the way for a small con­tin­gent of troops — pos­sibly around 10,000 — to re­main in the coun­try past the dead­line for the end of com­bat op­er­a­tions this year. That “lim­ited” mis­sion would be fo­cused on train­ing, ad­vising, and as­sist­ing loc­al forces and pur­su­ing the rem­nants of al-Qaida, the White House said in a state­ment about Obama’s call with Kar­zai.

But after more than a year of ne­go­ti­ations on the pact and re­sound­ing sup­port for Kar­zai’s sig­na­ture from a coun­cil of Afghan tri­bal eld­ers, the out­go­ing Afghan pres­id­ent made an un­ex­pec­ted course change by in­sist­ing the agree­ment wait un­til after his suc­cessor is elec­ted in April.

“Pres­id­ent Obama has asked the Pentagon to en­sure that it has ad­equate plans in place to ac­com­plish an or­derly with­draw­al by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afgh­anistan after 2014,” the White House state­ment said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is leav­ing open the pos­sib­il­ity that the agree­ment will be signed later this year.

“However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more chal­len­ging it will be to plan and ex­ecute any U.S. mis­sion,” the state­ment 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, who is headed off to Brus­sels to dis­cuss Afgh­anistan at a con­fer­ence of NATO’s de­fense min­is­ters, strongly sup­ports Obama’s de­cision. “This is a prudent step giv­en that Pres­id­ent Kar­zai has demon­strated that it is un­likely that he will sign the Bi­lat­er­al Se­cur­ity Agree­ment,” Hagel said.

As Wash­ing­ton pushed Kar­zai to sign the pact, Pentagon of­fi­cials in­sisted they need the clar­ity from a last­ing agree­ment to deal with the ser­i­ous lo­gist­ic­al hurdles of both plan­ning a fol­low-up mis­sion to the Afgh­anistan War, such as co­ordin­at­ing with al­lies and keep­ing the right in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try — or, al­tern­at­ively, with­draw­ing troops and equip­ment from the coun­try safely if the agree­ment is not signed.

Hagel stressed that the Pentagon would con­tin­ue plan­ning for U.S. troops to par­ti­cip­ate in a NATO-led mis­sion in the coun­try. “As the United States mil­it­ary con­tin­ues to move people and equip­ment out of the Afghan theat­er, our force pos­ture over the next sev­er­al months will provide vari­ous op­tions for polit­ic­al lead­ers in the United States and NATO,” he said.

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