America's longest running war may well be coming to an end.
The phone call from Obama to Karzai was one of life and death, as the future of American troops in Afghanistan is at stake. The call was not small talk, but actually a growing impatience on the part of President Obama and the administration on a new Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).
Oh sure, there were other items, like Afghanistan’s coming elections, Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts, but the "real" reason for the call was the BAS. Obama offered Karzai a "blunt warning" that time is running out to forge a deal to keep U.S. troops beyond the end of the year.
Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the two countries "not" forge a BSA.
That is the way it is looking now, as Karzai has been firm in demanding concessions from Obama, concessions Obama is unwilling to give. The major stumbling block is continuing to offer U.S. troops "immunity from prosecution under Afghan laws." Without such an agreement and immunity, the Obama administration would not allow troops to remain in the country beyond 2014.
"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," the White House said in a statement.
Obama left the door open a crack to keep a contingency of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core al-Qaeda. The following is part of the readout of the phone call:
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 United States continues to support a sovereign, stable, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and will continue our partnership based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. We remain fully supportive of our partners in the Afghan security forces, and we continue to proudly work side by side with the many Afghans who continue to work to ensure the stability and prosperity of their fellow citizens.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Tuesday that the Pentagon has begun planning for a complete withdrawal of troops by year's end.
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.
The deadline has long past, but administration officials are saying there was some flexibility in planning. Tuesday's announcement is the first public indication that the U.S. military is moving to leave the country completely after 13 years of war. There are about 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The inability for Obama administration to forge an agreement with Iraq that included immunity from prosecution for the U.S. military led to the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country at the end of 2011.
There are currently 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, and Defense Department advisers have drawn plans to leave as many as 10,000 U.S. troops in the country starting next year.
The White House first publicly floated the possibility of a "zero option" in Afghanistan in early 2013 to prod Karzai to get a deal done and has repeatedly underscored that the without a new agreement the U.S. and international security forces will have to withdraw all troops when the war formally ends at the end of 2014.
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