President Obama told Aghanistan President Hamid Karzai that the U.S. is moving ahead with post 2014 plans that include zero troops in the country since the Afghan president won't commit to a security agreement.
The White House says Obama called Karzai today, telling him that he's asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans to pull out of Afghanistan entirely by the end of the year.
At the same time, the White House said Obama told Karzai that if it has an agreement "and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government" -- a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after "the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan."
The White House says it will "leave open the possibility" of signing an agreement with Afghanistan later this year. The country holds presidential elections in less than two months.
But the White House warned that "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."
The White House says the two presidents also discussed preparations for Afghanistan’s coming elections, Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts.
It said Obama "welcomed the beginning of Afghanistan’s presidential campaign season and affirmed the United States’ support for a fair, credible, timely, and Afghan-led process."
"As Afghans soon take the important step of heading to the election polls, they should know that the United States will be committed to supporting the Afghan security forces as they make preparations to secure the Afghan elections," the White House said.
It said both leaders noted the important role that independent Afghan electoral bodies would play in overseeing a historic transfer of power, and that Obama "reiterated that the United States would not support any candidate in the elections -- the choice of who leads Afghanistan is for Afghans to make."
With presidential elections less than two months away, a new public opinion survey found hopeful signs that Afghan voters are ready to build a unified nation after three decades of war.
Karzai updated Obama regarding Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts, "and the leaders noted that it was critical for regional countries to support a political solution to the conflict." the White House said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Obama's decision to move ahead with contingency for a withdrawal with zero troops a "prudent step" given that Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the agreement.
He said the agreement would provide DoD personnel with "critical protections and authorities after 2014."
He said the U.S. will still continue planning for U.S. participation in a NATO-led mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces, as well as a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission.