President speaks with Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and says US is ‘moving forward with additional contingency planning’
- The Guardian, Tuesday 25 February 2014 14.57 EST
Barack Obama formally ordered the Pentagon on Tuesday to make plans for a full pullout of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, pointing to a way out of the conflict that is reminiscent of his end to the Iraq campaign.
While the Obama administration reiterated that it would prefer to maintain a residual military presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has refused to sign an accord that would pave the way for some US forces to remain. That has forced the administration to begin a contingency plan for a full departure after Nato formally ends hostilities in November.
A similar rebuke from the Iraqi government prompted all almost all US troops to leave there in 2011.
Obama told Karzai during a Tuesday morning phone call that while he would prefer Karzai or his successor to sign the so-called bilateral security agreement reached with the Afghans in November, “the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning,” according to a White House description of the call.
But defense secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that it was prudent “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 that over the next several months, the US military will prepare “various options” for US and Nato leaders, including a full withdrawal of the approximately 37,000 US troops in Afghanistan, as well as the post-2014 missions of counter-terrorism and training for the Afghan security forces it has long desired.
The White House confirmed that Obama’s phone call to Karzai had been triggered in part by an urgent need to give clarity to Nato allies about any future US presence in Afghanistan.
“One of the reasons for the call is because Secretary Hagel will be participating in the Nato defence ministerial later this week and planning for post 2014 forces will be on the agenda,” said spokesman Jay Carney.
However, White House officials played down calls from Congress to cut off aid to Afghanistan if US troops are not allowed to stay, a major fear of politicians in Kabul.
“We have made clear that our commitment to Afghanistan – separate from the troop presence – is in our national security interests,” said Carney when asked about aid.
The White House rejected criticism that Obama had allowed a dangerous lack of communication with Karzai to develop. Prior to today’s call, the two leaders had barely spoken in months.
“It is preposterous to suggest [that Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA] is because we have not made clear that it is to be signed,” said Carney.
The White House also warned that even if the security agreement was signed imminently, the size of the US commitment may now be in doubt
Obama threatens Karzai with total Afghanistan troop withdrawal over security deal delay
US president Barack Obama says he will withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, if the Afghan president continues to delay signing a post-war security deal.
The United States has about 33,600 troops in Afghanistan. It is withdrawing the force in line with Mr Obama’s vow to largely end a 12-year mission that began after the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.
The original plan would see up to 8,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for counter-terrorism operations.
Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has agreed to a deal but he refuses to sign a joint security agreement.
Now, Mr Obama has run out of patience, telling Mr Karzai that plans are being drawn up to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan.
If that occurs, US troops will not be there to train Afghan forces or lead operations against Al Qaeda.
However, the US also has the option to keep a small contingent in Afghanistan next year without Mr Karzai’s agreement.
Mr Karzai has already ignored the White House’s earlier demand that the deal be signed within weeks, not months.
Obama gives ultimatum to Karzai
Mr Obama told Mr Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday (US time) that he had ordered the Pentagon to plan an orderly exit of all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, the White House said.
The phone call was the first substantial discussion involving the two leaders since June.
“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,” the White House said in a statement.
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel will be taking the modified US position to a meeting of NATO defence ministers this week in Brussels.