Sen. Levin to Obama: Delay Afghan postwar plan until next April

In an abrupt change of heart, Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin is now pressing the White House to delay ratification of an Afghan postwar plan until after the country's presidential election next April. 

In a letter sent to President Obama on Wednesday, the Michigan Democrat said the United States would have a better chance at locking in a postwar plan once Afghan President Hamid Karzai leaves office. 

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"Public demands that [Afghanistan] sign the agreement by the end of the year ...  contribute to President Karzai's mistaken belief that the United States needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the United States," Levin said in the letter. 

"The next Afghan president, whoever he is, is also likely to be more reliable than President Karzai, and there would be greater confidence in his sticking with an agreement he has signed," Levin wrote. 

The letter comes nearly two months after Levin personally lobbied Karzai to approve the postwar plan as soon as possible. 

Meeting with the Afghan leader in Kabul, he emphasized the political, economic and security gains made in the country since U.S. operations began in Afghanistan in 2001. 

"I believe that the continued assistance and engagement of the United States and other countries is warranted and will help preserve these achievements," Levin said in a statement issued shortly after the October meeting. 

But Levin also noted that the Afghan president's recent critical comments about American and allied forces in the country "have too often not been helpful to promote confidence between our countries.”

That frustration with the Karzai government in Washington has mounted in recent weeks, as the Afghan leader and the Obama administration remain at loggerheads over the postwar deal. 

Last month, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) demanded Obama abandon plans to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014 due to Karzai's continued postponement of the deal. 

"After 12 years, billions of dollars and President Karzai's continued disrespect for the United States ... it is time to end our commitment to Afghanistan," the North Carolina Republican said in a letter sent to Obama on Tuesday. 

Jones sent his letter days after Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) demanded the White House seek congressional approval for any postwar U.S. force in Afghanistan after the White House-mandated 2014 withdrawal deadline. 

"Should the President determine the necessity to maintain [American] troops in Afghanistan" after 2014, "any such presence and missions should be authorized by a separate vote of Congress," legislation proposed by Merkley said.

The postwar plan, known inside the Pentagon as the bilateral security agreement (BSA), was "overwhelmingly approved" by an assembly of the Afghanistan's most powerful tribal leaders, called the Loya Jirga, earlier this month, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. 

But a slew of last-minute demands by Karzai, including the release of all Afghan prisoners at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay and banning members of a U.S. postwar force from entering Afghan homes, has Obama considering a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. 

NATO Secretary-General Fogh Anders Rasmussen said Tuesday the alliance is preparing plans for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan if Kabul does not ratify the BSA. 

Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday the department would be willing to bypass Karzai's approval for the plan, saying other top Afghan leaders  could "fulfill the kind of commitment we need" to proceed with postwar planning and operations. 

Officials in Kabul argue plans of a complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, known inside the White House as the "zero option," is simply a ploy by Washington to get Karzai to approve the plan. 

But on Thursday, Levin emphasized the possibility of the zero option coming from the administration is no idle threat. 

"We should be clear, however, that such planning is not intended as a threat, but rather is the responsible actions of our civilian and military leaders," he said.  

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