Rahmat Gul/AP

Karzai Blasts Dempsey Over ‘Zero Option’ Remarks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Gen. Martin Dempsey’s comments are just ‘intimidation’ to get him to sign the troop deal. By Stephanie Gaskell

During a trip to Afghanistan this week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said President Hamid Karzai’s decision not to sign a post-2014 troop deal – and President Barack Obama’s subsequent decision to begin planning a full withdrawal – is emboldening the enemy and making it more likely that skeptical Afghan troops will side with the Taliban in some areas.

Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi shot back on Thursday, telling Defense One that Dempsey’s remarks “are unfortunately nothing more than pressures and intimidation to sign the BSA (bilateral security agreement).”

The exchange caps off a week in which U.S. leaders publicly leaned on Karzai to sign the deal. Obama called Karzai on Tuesday to say the Afghan leader left him no choice but to order his top military leaders to begin planning to execute a full withdrawal by Dec. 31. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Brussels for a regular meeting of NATO defense ministers, also kept the pressure on, while Dempsey had a marathon of meetings on Wednesday with U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan.

Dempsey said Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA “is having an effect on the enemy and in some ways I think encourages them, and intelligence supports that." He also said the delay is having an effect on Karzai’s military, causing the nascent force to "hedge their bets” on whether they will be able to secure the country without the help of international forces.

"They want to have a bit of certainty in their future, as you'd expect them to. And, you know, they are anxious about the fact that we haven't achieved a BSA yet,” Dempsey said.

“There are parts of the country where it seems to be, there will - with some likelihood ... be some accommodations between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban. I think a delay in the (security agreement) might accelerate those kind of accommodations,” Dempsey said. “I don't think it will be widespread by the way, but we do have to be alert to that possibility."

Faizi took particular exception to the accusation that Afghan security forces would side with the Taliban. “We strongly believe that it is never going to happen unless it is a plot from outside and designed as such,” he said.

Dempsey’s spokesman, Col. Ed Thomas, said on Thursday that the chairman stands by his remarks. “Gen. Dempsey said the delay in signing the BSA is having an effect on the enemy, and the Taliban are, in some ways, encouraged by the notion that U.S. and coalition forces will depart Afghanistan in the absence of a signed BSA,” Thomas said. “He also cited the detrimental effect on the confidence level of our Afghan security force partners which have been performing superbly and are now firmly in the lead for security there.

Karzai has agreed to a deal that would give protections to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan after the official end of the war on Dec. 31. But he says he won’t sign it, leaving that for his successor. Presidential elections are set for April 5, but a runoff could extend the transfer of power for several months, which U.S. and NATO commanders warn would leave them too little time to plan.

Hagel, at NATO, said he would continue to plan for both outcomes – a post-war presence and a full withdrawal.

“No nation can commit troops or resources or its people to a sovereign nation if -- first, you have to be invited; and second, you have to have the rights and the immunities and the ground rules and the authorities to have your people there,” he said. “That takes planning. That takes budgets. That takes -- we're all democracies. You've got to go to your parliaments. We have to go to our Congress.”

“So the longer that goes, yes, I think one of the consequences could very well be an erosion of confidence. I hope that doesn't happen,” Hagel said.