WASHINGTON— Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the head of NATO, said he expects the Afghan government will soon agree to a new security deal on the engagement of foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a deal before his country's April 5 presidential election, and a published report alleges he is in secret contacts with the Taliban to reach a peace agreement. The United States has warned Karzai that a security deal with the Western alliance is urgent to enable timely planning for the deployment after 2014.
The presidential campaign in Afghanistan is in full swing. President Karzai is not eligible to run, and has said he wants the country's new elected leader to be the one to sign the security agreement that his government has negotiated with the United States.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has repeatedly stressed the urgency of signing a bilateral agreement on training and supporting the Afghan forces in counter-terrorism.
"The longer there is a delay, the harder it is for NATO and U.S. military forces to plan for a post-2014 presence. This is a matter of weeks, not months, and I think that's a way of saying that we -- you know -- this can't wait for very long, because it's impossible to ask our NATO allies or our U.S. military commanders to plan on a contingency. This is a complicated piece of business and there cannot be and will not be U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 without a signed bilateral security agreement," said Carney.
Rasmussen expressed confidence Tuesday that a new agreement with Kabul will be signed. He told reporters in London that Afghanistan's security depends on that agreement.
"One thing is that while we do believe the Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility for security in Afghanistan, we also believe that they will need continued training and assistance. But quite another thing is that if we are not present in Afghanistan after 2014, it might also be difficult to generate sufficient financial resources to actually sustain the Afghan security forces. And if not, the Afghan government can't afford to pay salaries to the Afghan security forces. So that would be a major challenge for Afghanistan," said the NATO chief.
U.S. relations with President Karzai have been strained in the past years. He has accused the U.S. military of using indiscriminate force and causing too many civilian deaths in his country.
A report published by The New York Times Tuesday claimed Karzai has had secret contacts with the Taliban in an effort to reach a peace agreement without the involvement of the United States. The report said this explains President Karzai's reluctance to sign the new security deal with the West and his insistence on the release of some hardened Taliban militants from prison.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with top military officials Tuesday at the White House for discussions including Afghanistan. There was no statement after the closed-door meeting, but a White House spokesperson said no decision was made regarding the continued U.S. role in Afghanistan.