PENTAGON— The United States is raising the pressure on Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow more than 8,000 U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of the year. The U.S. is again threatening a full withdrawal if Karzai does not sign the deal.
Militants capturing cities in Iraq is something U.S. officials don't want to see happen in Afghanistan.
The international troops that have helped Afghan forces fight extremists are due to withdraw in just 11 months.
This week, White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated calls for President Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement to facilitate the presence of U.S. troops past this year.
“Our position continues to be that if we cannot conclude a bilateral security agreement promptly, then we will be forced to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. nor NATO troop presence in Afghanistan," said Carney.
The U.S. says it wants a decision in the next few weeks, not months. Karzai wants to wait until after Afghanistan's April elections before making a decision.
U.S. officials say the longer the Afghan leader waits to sign the deal, the harder it will be for them and NATO allies to commit support. NATO defense ministers will meet next month and want to start planning their post 2014 presence.
"This is not an easy or uncomplicated process," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. "If you just look at our military and what we have to do in order to plan and prepare for a post-2014 mission train, assist, advise, counterterrorism, budgets, the Congress. This is complicated."
The U.S. military has tons of equipment and thousands of personnel to move in a short amount of time, but officials say they are setting no deadlines.
Analysts say Karzai does not believe the U.S. will pull out and is playing a dangerous game that could result in Afghan forces being left to fend for themselves without U.S. forces to assist them.
Complicating the process is a difficult personal relationship between Karzai and President Obama. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a new book, writes that Obama "can't stand" Karzai.
"If we have to wait a few months, we can wait a few months," said Michael O'Hanlon, who is with the Brookings Institution. "But that makes life a lot harder, and it's possible that the Obama administration is so fed up with Karzai that it's willing to actually create a deadline and mean it. That's the danger here."
That possibility appears to be growing, says Jason Campbell of the Rand Corporation.
“Right now given the last few weeks where President Karzai has increasingly shown unwillingness to sign the BSA, that is starting to, I think, creep in to the planners, get on their radars, so to speak, and they're going to have to consider it," he said.
For now, U.S. troops are working with the uncertainty of not knowing if they will stay or will go.