By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Nov. 21, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today that any U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan past 2014 can only be discussed after the proposed bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan is signed and put into effect.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him en route to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he will attend the Halifax International Security Forum tomorrow, Hagel said “That’s all going to be defined … [after] the final approval” of the agreement.
Hagel noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke this morning to the loya jirga, or council of elders, that he called together to consider the document. If the loya jirga approves the draft agreement, it will then go to Afghanistan’s parliament for ratification.
The document spells out each side’s roles, rights and responsibilities in Afghanistan’s post-2014 security; one point of contention has been the stipulation, which the United States puts into all such agreements, that it retains legal jurisdiction over its service members. Hagel and other officials have repeatedly stated that provision is not negotiable.
“We believe by the end of this year, we should have that agreement signed,” he said. “We need to have that agreement signed by the end of the year -- I think President [Barack] Obama has been clear on that.”
Hagel said NATO allies and other nations contributing to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan are also waiting for the U.S.-Afghan agreement, which is expected to serve as a model for a similar, NATO-Afghanistan security agreement.
“We continue to plan for a post-2014, train, assist and advise [and] counterterrorism role,” the secretary said. “But until we get that BSA, we can‘t do any more than train. It really needs to be done by the end of this year.”
Hagel responded to a reporter’s question on whether an extended delay in signing the document would be a “deal-breaker.”
“I don’t make deal-breaker decision,” he said. “But I think it would put the United States in a very, very difficult position -- because until we have a signed bilateral security agreement, … [we don’t have] the assurance that we need to go forward.”
U.S. forces must be assured of protection, Hagel said, calling that security a “critical element.”
“We have to have assurances that our forces would be protected in every way,” he said. “Without a bilateral security agreement, I don’t think we could go forward.”