President Obama is backing off demands that Afghanistan finalize a postwar pact with the United States by the end of the year, possibly waiting until after the country's presidential elections in April.
The White House is reportedly now willing to accept a final postwar pact "several weeks" after Obama's self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31, administration officials told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
But waiting until after the elections could prove difficult for U.S. and Afghan forces fighting in the country, in light of the administration's plans to officially end the war next year.
"The election is not for several months, and could take time to play out, a White House official told the Times.
Waiting until April "is not the preferred view" within the administration, "but we haven't closed the door on it entirely," the official added.
The thinking inside the White House echoes recent recommendations by Senate Armed Services Committee Chief Sen. Carl LevinCarl LevinObama to preserve torture report in presidential papers 'Nuclear option' for Supreme Court nominees will damage Senate McCain's Supreme Court strategy leads to nuclear Senate MORE (D-Mich.)
In a Dec. 4 letter to Obama, 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.
"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 postwar plan, known inside the Pentagon as the bilateral security agreement, 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 HagelChuck HagelWho will temper Trump after he takes office? Hagel: I’m ‘encouraged’ by Trump’s Russia outreach Want to 'drain the swamp'? Implement regular order MORE.
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.