KABUL, Afghanistan —
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came away from a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today convinced that the United States and Afghanistan can sign a bilateral security agreement between now and October.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey gave his assessment during a roundtable with Western and Afghan media at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters here.
“I can tell you with great candor and integrity that the conversation today with the president was very positive, and I left convinced that he is as committed as we are to moving ahead with this bilateral security agreement as soon as possible,” Dempsey said.
Getting the agreement signed by October fits in with his best military advice, the chairman stressed. The agreement would put in place the framework for the continuing U.S. and NATO effort in the country after Dec. 31, 2014, when the current NATO mandate expires.
“We would like to have the enduring framework in place by October 2014 so there would be about 90 days before the current mandate ends and a new NATO operation called Resolute Support begins,” Dempsey said.
October 2013 is a year ahead of this, and “militarily, my advice is we should try to achieve as much clarity and certainty as possible about a year out from when we want to be set in that configuration,” he added.
The agreement would reflect America’s continued commitment to the development of the Afghan security forces beyond 2014. Dempsey said an agreement soon would build on the momentum generated by Milestone 2013, which put Afghan forces in the lead for security across the country.
Dempsey said he assured Karzai that the U.S. motivation for the agreement is to “continue the development of his security forces as the best guarantor of future security in Afghanistan.”
Once the U.S.-Afghanistan agreement is signed, a similar NATO agreement will follow. And these commitments from the broader coalition also important, Dempsey told reporters.
“I personally believe that the bilateral security agreement is an important factor -- maybe the critical factor -- in assuring that those commitments will be delivered,” he said.
Dempsey said he told Karzai he has a “significant level of confidence” in the Afghan security forces. The Afghan police and army have made progress, he added, but it is not irreversible. “The confidence of the security forces and the Afghan people will continue to grow, and an interruption in that progress could be a setback for the country,” he said.
Afghan reporters asked the chairman about the “zero option” idea that some in the U.S. government have floated. This would mean no American troops in Afghanistan following the end of the International Security Assistance Force mission. “I don’t recommend a zero option,” the chairman said.
But while there may be no zero option on the table, the chairman added, “there could be a zero outcome, because we can only stay here if we are invited to do so.”
“That’s why I am personally committed to doing whatever I can do to set the conditions for this bilateral security agreement,” Dempsey said.
The chairman noted he has been committed to the development of the Afghan security forces for years. “I have had a son and a daughter both serve here. ... For me, this is a family issue,” he said. “As a military leader, I will do everything in my power to assure my Afghan counterparts … and the Afghan political leaders that we are genuinely and sincerely interested in continuing that relationship and their development.”