By Jeremy Herb - 02/10/14 11:43 AM EST
Worried at the prospect of a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghan soldiers are increasingly speaking out publicly about the need for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a security agreement with the United States.
Afghan troops told the Washington Post and local news outlets they are concerned a full U.S. withdrawal at the end of 2014 will allow the Taliban to gain ground on them.
“If the international community leaves, there is no question that we will lose ground to the Taliban,” Col. Mohammad Dost, a battalion commander in Zabul province, told the Post. “It’s the biggest worry for every soldier now.”
Capt. Abdul Zahir said that “if the Americans leave, Afghanistan will be a lone sheep, left in the desert for the wolves to eat.”
U.S. and NATO forces are scheduled to hand off full control of security to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), which has 352,000 troops.
There are tentative plans for roughly 8,000-10,000 U.S. and NATO troops to stay behind in a training role after 2014, but those plans have been threatened by Karzai’s unwillingness to sign the bilateral security agreement.
The U.S. has threatened to withdraw all of its forces and cut off aid if the security pact is not signed, though the Obama administration has backed off a firm deadline.
Karzai has said he does not want to sign the agreement until after the country’s presidential elections in April, and he’s also called on the U.S. to start peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Some Afghan soldiers are facing punishment for speaking out on the security agreement.
Gen. Momand Katawazai called for Karzai to sign the agreement in an interview with Afghan television station TOLO News last month. “As everyone wants the agreement to be signed, we also call for its signing,” he said.
But soon after, officials from the Defense Ministry told Katawazai not to bother going to work any more, according to the Post. He hasn’t been fired yet but expects to be.
“It’s been a huge headache,” he said.