Official: NATO planning for Afghan pullout by spring if security agreement fails
NATO would have to prepare to completely withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in the spring if President Hamid Karzai does not sign a security pact allowing foreign troops to stay on Afghan soil, the organization's top military commander said Tuesday.
President Karzai's ties with Washington have been strained by his repeated refusal to sign a long-term security agreement that aims to manage the U.S. military presence in the restive country beyond 2014, when most international troops will depart, according to Reuters.
Without Karzai's approval of the U.S.-Afghan accord, NATO says it will be unable to finalize its own agreement with the Afghan government concerning its troops in the country. If the U.S. and NATO do not get the green light from Karzai, they would have to pull all of their forces - currently 84,000 strong, according to Reuters - out of the Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told Reuters that planning for the last rotation of combat soldiers would have to happen early next spring, around the time in April that the country has planned to hold its presidential elections.
Breedlove said that whatever the outcome - whether NATO and the U.S. will leave a small post-2014 training force or if they go for the "zero option" of pulling out all its forces - decisions would have to be made in the spring.
"If we were to go to a more drastic option in Afghanistan it takes a certain amount of time to get a force out of a nation ... And that timeline I don't think is well understood by President Karzai," he told a small group of reporters, according to Reuters.
President Karzai has shut down U.S. discussions of a total military withdrawal from Afghanistan if he does not sign the security agreement. He has also said he would not back down on his conditions for the deal - one of which includes letting the hopeful new president deal with the security agreement.
According to Reuters, last Saturday Karzai told reporters in New Delhi that the security deal was "conditional on the United States stopping raids on Afghan homes and helping to restart a peace process with the Taliban".