Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Obama to Karzai: We’re Making Plans to Leave Afghanistan

President Barack Obama made a rare phone call to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday morning and warned the outgoing leader: Sign the post-2014 troop deal or we’re leaving.

“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,” White House officials said in a readout of the phone call. “Specifically, 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.” 

Obama said he was still hopeful that Karzai, or his successor, would sign a bilateral troop agreement, or BSA, soon, allowing a limited force of U.S. and NATO troops to stay beyond the official end of the war on Dec. 31.

“At the same time,” the readout said, “should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan. Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan 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. 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,” the readout said.

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Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has reportedly proposed leaving a force of 10,000 U.S. and NATO troops beyond 2014, to conduct counter-terrorism operations and train and advise Afghan security forces.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a statement Tuesday, after Obama’s phone call, saying he “strongly supports” Obama’s decision to begin planning for a complete withdrawal.

At President Obama’s direction, and with my strong support, the Department of Defense will move ahead with additional contingency planning to ensure adequate plans are 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,” Hagel said. “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.”

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. And during this time DoD will still continue planning for U.S. participation in a NATO-led mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission,” the statement said.

Hagel is heading to Brussels this week to attend a NATO meeting of defense ministers. He previously said that a BSA must be in place in time for the meeting, so NATO partners can plan for whether they need to keep troops in Afghanistan, or leave. “The United States will consult closely with NATO Allies and ISAF Partners in the months ahead, and I look forward to discussing our planning with NATO and ISAF defense ministers in Brussels this week,” Hagel said in his statement.

Karzai has agreed to the BSA, and a Loya Jirga, a meeting of Afghan elders, also agreed to a post-2014 troop presence. But Karzai, who will be replaced in April 5 presidential elections, said he will not sign the deal, leaving it to his successor. 

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