WASHINGTON: The White House has made it clear that the Afghan war will end this year, whether US troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014 or not.
“The war ends this year, at the end of this year, regardless” of a proposed bilateral security agreement for keeping some US troops in Afghanistan after 2014, said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The United States plans to withdraw all its combat forces from the war-torn country at the end of this year.
At a Tuesday evening news conference, Mr Carney explained that even if US troops remained in Afghanistan after 2014, they would focus solely on counterterrorism and the training and support of Afghan security forces.
Hours after President Barack Obama hinted at the possibility of a complete troop-pullout, the White House made it clear that without a bilateral security agreement there would be no US troops in Afghanistan after Dec 31.
“Absolutely,” said Mr Carney when asked if all US troops would be gone from Afghanistan by Dec 31, 2014.
“No wavering on that?” the journalist asked again.
“Absent a BSA, there will not be any US troops on the ground beyond the end of the year,” said Mr Carney replied.
The White House official noted that Afghanistan was holding presidential elections later this year and all key candidates had given assurances that if elected they would sign a bilateral security agreement with the US.
But “I don't think we would, given the experience we've had, predict with any great certainty what might happen,” he added.
On Tuesday, President Obama telephoned his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and told him that the United States will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan if a security pact is not signed.
And on Wednesday, a senior US official told CNN “we are not bluffing” as Washington will indeed withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan if an agreement is not signed by the end of this year.
At the White House news briefing, Mr Carney also stressed this point, saying that President Obama had tasked the Pentagon with preparing for the contingency that there will be no troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
“But we are also remaining open to the possibility of a post-2014 troop presence should a bilateral security agreement be signed ... later in the year” he added.Mr Carney warned that the longer the agreement was delayed, the more likely it would be that any post-2014 US mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.
Explaining why the United States had left a window open, the White House official said that while President Karzai had refused to sign the document, the new Afghan government might sign it.
“But that pushes us later into the year. And the longer we go without a signed BSA, the narrower in size and ambition the mission for a post-2014 force would be,” he warned.
Mr Carney said the United States had been urging President Karzai to sign the BSA for some time but he refused to do so, “and so we have to re-evaluate where we are”.
The White House official said it's “inconceivable” that Congress would allow for a US troop presence without a signed bilateral security agreement in Afghanistan.
The agreement, he said, was already endorsed by the representatives of the Afghan people and was “not subject to renegotiation”.