By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2013 – The United States wants the Afghan government to sign a proposed bilateral security agreement “as soon as possible,” a senior Defense Department official with responsibility for Afghanistan told Congress today.
“Concluding the BSA promptly would be an important signal to the people of Afghanistan, to the Taliban, to our allies and partners, and to the world that we intend to continue our partnership in support of Afghanistan,” Michael J. Dumont, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in prepared testimony.
The agreement had been under negotiation for months, and received tentative approval in November by a council of Afghan elders known as a loya jirga, who urged President Hamid Karzai to sign it by the end of this year.
The accord would clear the way for a continued U.S and allied troop presence in Afghanistan after the current NATO mission ends in December 2014.
“As the president has made clear, however, the United States must secure an agreement that protects U.S. troops and must have an invitation from the Afghan government to fulfill the promise of the post-2014 partnership discussed at the 2012 Chicago NATO summit,” Dumont told lawmakers, noting that the post-2014 mission for U.S. and NATO troops would be to continue to counter terrorism and to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
“NATO also needs to conclude a status of forces agreement with Afghanistan for the NATO mission to move forward post-2014,” he added.
But Karzai has said he will not sign the bilateral security agreement until after April’s presidential election, and the accord would still have to be submitted to the Afghan parliament for ratification.
Senior U.S. officials have warned the United States will have to begin preparing for a complete military withdrawal if the agreement is not signed promptly, and that a decision by Karzai to walk away from it would also put billions of dollars in foreign aid at risk.
At today’s hearing, Dumont made clear what the implications of a cutoff of aid would be, especially for the Afghan national security forces, which he said have shown they can create a secure Afghanistan, “but not without continued progress towards developing a sustainable and professional force,” which a new U.S. and NATO post-2014 mission, dubbed NATO Resolute Support, would help to facilitate.
Afghan forces number 352,000, and they are in the lead in security operations around the country, with troops from the 49 nations that make up NATO’S International Security Assistance Force having largely transitioned to a training and assistance role.
For the coming year, Dumont said, U.S. and NATO forces will be prepared to provide assistance if requested to Afghan authorities to ensure April’s presidential elections are secure, credible and inclusive.
“The presidential elections, scheduled for April, 5, 2014, will be the first constitutional transfer of power from one president to another in Afghanistan’s history,” he said.