By Justin Sink - 02/04/14 04:01 PM EST
President Obama met Tuesday with the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who was expected to press the White House to maintain a troop presence in the country beyond the end of the year.
White House press secretary Jay Carney described the meeting with Gen. Joseph Dunford as "an important opportunity for President Obama to hear directly, in person, from his commander on the ground and other senior defense officials."
In addition to Dunford, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, Vice Chairman James Winnefeld, Gen. Lloyd Austin and Admiral William McRaven were expected at the meeting.
Obama has vowed to remove American troops from the country by the end of this year, although a small contingency of troops may remain to fight counterterrorism operations. At present, 34,000 troops are in the country.
NATO allies and some military commanders have pressed the White House, which is thought to be skeptical, about retaining a presence in Afghanistan.
Carney said Tuesday that decisions about what a post-2014 troop level might look like was "contingent upon the Afghan government signing the bilateral security agreement that we negotiated last year in good faith."
The White House has repeatedly signaled their frustration with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign the long-term security agreement. On Monday, The New York Times reported Karzai was engaged with secret talks with the Taliban.
"Absent a signed BSA there will be no and can be no U.S. troops beyond 2014," Carney said.
Carney also dismissed reports from Republican lawmakers that the administration was floating a full withdrawal from the country by 2017, which critics say could incentivize the talks between Karzai and the Taliban.
"I don't doubt that some senators envision a world in which U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan for decades," Carney said. "Some senators envisioned a world in which U.S. troops remained in Iraq for decades. That's not the president's vision."