Defense Secretary Hagel was in Afghanistan in the Afghan capital on Saturday, where he conferred with top security officials but purposely chose not to see President Hamid Karzai, whose decision to delay signing a security agreement with the United States has cast doubt on the future of the American military mission here, reports the N.Y. Times today.
Mr. Hagel met with the Afghan defense minister, Bismillah Mohammadi Khan, and the deputy interior minister, Mohammad Ayub Salangi. Mr. Hagel said the defense minister expressed enthusiastic support for the bilateral security agreement and predicted that it ‘would be signed, and would be signed in a very timely manner.’
Hagel said the administration was 'surprised' that Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign the security agreement after it was approved by a council of elders.
Mr. Karzai imposed new conditions on American and allied military actions, including an immediate and total ban on counter terrorism raids by American forces on Afghan homes. He has also mentioned freeing prisoners held by the United States at Guantánamo Bay as a condition for signing the agreement.
These amendments have frustrated Defense Secretary Hegel and the Obama administration. Planning for the U.S. role and its 2014 mission in Afghanistan is very difficult to finalize at the last minute. The NATO combat mission ends in December 2014.
‘I never asked for a meeting with President Karzai,’ Mr. Hagel said. ‘I never received an invitation to meet with him. I didn’t expect a meeting with him. This trip is about the troops.’
American national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, and the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, previously failed to break the impasse with Mr. Karzai. At this point Mr. Hagel has nothing more to add at this time.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday said the pullout of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan due to the lack of a security agreement was a 'real possibility.'
‘It’s a very real possibility because if we don’t have a bilateral security agreement, which I’ve noted, that means we can’t protect our forces that would be here after 2014,’ Hagel said on CBS’s Sunday, ‘Face the Nation.’
Hagel will travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan on Monday, making the first visit by a United States Secretary of Defense in nearly four years.
Defense Department spokesman Carl Woog said Hagel ‘looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharif and other senior Pakistani officials the United States and Pakistan's common interest in a stable Afghanistan.’