Obama Puts Press on Karzai, Threatening Pullout of U.S. Troops

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During a Tuesday phone call with President Barack Obama, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai indicated he would not sign the bilateral security agreement that would provide a legal basis for keeping U.S. troops in his country, where they have been stationed for nearly 13 years. In a press release detailing the conversation, the White House said Karzai had “demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign” the long-term security agreement with the United States before he leaves office.

Elections will take place in April, but if the country’s history is any indicator, runoffs will likely follow, meaning Afghanistan may be facing months of political uncertainty that will further postpone the drafting of a security agreement meant to keep several thousand American troops in the country after combat operations conclude this year.

With the future of Afghanistan’s leadership and the security pact unclear, Obama informed Karzai that the United States would move forward with contingency planning. For the Department of Defense, this means preparing for a possible withdrawal of the 33,600 U.S. troops still in the country by the end of this year if no security agreement is inked. Already, the president “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.

Despite the warning given to Karzai by Obama and the preparations he told the Defense Department to make, the possibility that a bilateral security agreement will be signed is not totally out of the realm of possibility. Rather, the White House’s blunt description of the conversation with Karzai is a symptom of the president’s frustration with the leader’s hesitancy to sign an agreement as well as the erosion of his trust in Karzai.

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