ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFTâ€“ Every day that goes by with no signed U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement and no status of forces agreement for International Security Assistance Force partners narrows the options available to help the people of Afghanistan after 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.
Hagel spoke to reporters after visiting troops at Langley Air Force Base and nearby Fort Eustis, both in Virginia. He made the stop to discuss with service members some of the recently announced Defense Department recommendations for President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request.
Afterward, he continued on to participate in a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting that begins today in Brussels.
“Every time a day goes by [without a signed U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement], our options narrow,” Hagel said, discussing the outcome of a telephone call yesterday between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
According to a White House summary of the call, Obama told Karzai that, because of his unwillingness to sign the agreement, Obama has asked DOD leaders to ensure they have plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year if the United States decides not to keep troops there after 2014.
Hagel said Obama directed him and all the military commanders to plan for every contingency in Afghanistan.
“I understand … that President Obama noted that we, the United States, and our NATO partners still believe that we could continue to assist the people of Afghanistan in a post-2014 role — to train, assist and advise — if that’s what they want,” the secretary added. “But [Obama] made it very clear that if we don’t have that bilateral security agreement, we won’t be able to do it.”
The NATO nations are going to need a status of forces agreement, Hagel said, as will the non-NATO nations that contribute troops to ISAF. Nearly 50 nations are in and have been in Afghanistan, the secretary told an Air Force tech sergeant from an intelligence squadron at Langley who asked about the U.S. role in Afghanistan if no agreement is signed.
NATO nations “need a status of forces agreement to protect their people if they stay, and non-NATO nations also would have to be protected in some way,” he added.
“The president was very clear on this with President Karzai,” Hagel said. “In what would be a mission for the United States and our NATO and ISAF partners post-2014, we’re, as the president said, planning for different contingencies, including no mission in Afghanistan after 2014, unless there is [an agreement] signed by a committed government in enough time to give our commanders [and our partners] the options in planning they need to develop and implement a successful post-2014 strategy in Afghanistan.”
Hagel added, “We’ll talk about this in Brussels in the next two days.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)