Afghan President Hamid Karzai can designate someone to sign the accord for U.S. forces to remain in his country after 2014 if he doesn’t want to put his own name on it, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
“His minister of defense can sign it, the government can sign it, somebody can accept responsibility for this,” Kerry told reporters in Brussels yesterday, as NATO foreign ministers pushed the Afghan leader to accept a scaled-back international troop presence after the withdrawal of combat forces at the end of next year.
Afghan tribal elders have endorsed the security pact with the U.S. that would allow a follow-up mission aimed at training and counterterrorism. Karzai has continued to raise objections about military operations that he says put Afghan civilians at risk. He also has suggested he may not be ready to sign the accord until after Afghanistan’s election to choose his successor as president in April.
Kerry said foreign ministers from all 28 countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “voiced a hope that this can be done sooner, not later.” While other U.S. officials have said the accord must be signed this month, Kerry said in Brussels that he hasn’t spoken of a “hard, fixed, specific” deadline.
The U.S. allies in Europe backed efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to pressure Karzai into accepting the troop-stationing accord with the U.S. soon to allow time next year to shift international troops into a backup and training role. They said the alternative would be a complete pullout that leaves the country at the mercy of a reinvigorated Taliban.
The U.S. and its NATO allies plan to cut troop levels to about 8,000 to 12,000 by the start of 2015 from 84,000 now, ending a war that started with al-Qaeda using Afghanistan as a base for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“This is not fooling around,” Kerry said of the agreement. “This is serious business.”
A U.S.-Afghanistan troop agreement would serve as the model for a NATO-Afghan accord and make international donors more comfortable in meeting pledges to provide $4 billion in military aid and $4 billion in economic aid annually, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said a full pullout “is not our planning basis, but of course the so-called zero option can be the unfortunate outcome of decisions or non-decisions in Afghanistan.”
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said in Washington on Nov. 22 that Karzai needs to act “before the end of the year” because “it is just untenable -- impossible really” for the U.S. and allies “to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence” without an agreement.