U.S. May Have to Wait for Karzai’s Successor to Get Troop Deal

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James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said he doesn't believe Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign a troop deal before he leaves office. By Sara Sorcher

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not going to sign a security pact to allow U.S. troops to stay in the country past the end of this year, Intelligence chief James Clapper told the Senate on Tuesday.

Instead, it appears the U.S. will have to wait for his successor.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin—a Michigan Democrat who wants to wait to sign the agreement until Karzai’s replacement is elected this spring—asked during a committee hearing, “Wouldn’t it just clear the air to say we’re going to wait for the next president?”

Obviously, it takes two to sign it,” Clapper replied. “It may not be company policy,” Clapper said, but on a personal level, “I don’t believe President Karzai is going to sign it.”

Clapper’s comments come as news breaks that the U.S. military is revising its plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan until after Karzai leaves office—a reflection of a need to be pragmatic as hopes wane to finalize an agreement.

After more than a year of tough negotiations over the post-2014 partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan, Karzai has backed away since late last year from signing the much-anticipated security pact—even after a convention of Afghanistan’s 2,500 tribal elders gave their approval. The Obama administration has been pushing Karzai to sign the agreement, since it will allow them crucial time to plan to either leave a contingent of U.S. troops, or remove them from the country altogether.

The U.S. military on Tuesday also condemned the Afghan government for planning to free 65 detainees it believes are dangerous and pose a serious threat to the lives of coalition and local Afghan troops. “Actions like this make it very hard for an American politician to do business as usual in Afghanistan,” Sen. John McCain said.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. prepares to end its combat operations, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn said the local Afghan forces are having trouble holding areas that have been cleared of militants. The Afghan security forces, Flynn said, have shown modest progress in their ability to clear insurgents from contested areas, and are planning and conducting security operations.

But the lack of a binding, longterm agreement provokes confusion among the local forces, Flynn said. “I think there’s great uncertainty in their minds, because of the lack of signing of the [Bilateral Security Agreement], to be very candid.”

The troops also suffer because of the lack of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, and technology for countering improvised explosive devices, otherwise known as roadside bombs, Flynn said. Presidential elections this Spring could also bring upheaval. “The lack of a consensus candidate could lead to a potentially destabilizing runoff election, that would occur during the peak of the insurgent fighting season and ISAF’s drawdown.”

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