Joint Chiefs chairman wants US-Afghan troop deal finalized by October

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said Monday that he wants a security agreement with the Afghans signed by October to give NATO time to prepare for a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters in Kabul that an October agreement would give the United States and its allies a year to prepare for a post-2014 military presence, when NATO is planning to transition to an advisory role.

“Militarily, I would like to understand the future more clearly through the bilateral security agreement, sometime between now and October,” Dempsey said, according to the Associated Press.

Dempsey also said that he has not been asked to prepare for a “zero option,” where all U.S. and NATO troops leave Afghanistan in 2014 after handing off security to the Afghans.

White House officials have raised a complete pullout as a possibility after Afghan President Hamid Karzai suspended negotiations for a U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement.

Dempsey warned that he was not recommending a zero option, but said it was still possible if Afghan officials did not agree to a security agreement. That scenario occurred in Iraq when all U.S. troops left after 2011.

“No one asked me to prepare a zero option. I don’t recommend a zero option, but there could be a zero outcome, because we can only stay here if we are invited to do so,” Dempsey said Monday. “And that is why I am so personally committed to doing anything I can do to set the conditions for this bilateral security agreement.”

Dempsey said that a decision on the size of the post-2014 U.S. force “will be made soon,” but did not say how many troops might remain.

The U.S. and NATO are planning to leave behind a force after 2014 that would advise Afghan forces and also play a counterterrorism role for special operations missions.           

The U.S. is currently drawing down its 66,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 transition. By next spring, President Obama has said half that number will remain in the country.

Relations between Karzai and the U.S. took a turn for the worse last month after the U.S. announced peace talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. The talks were quickly marred by the Taliban’s Doha office flying a flag used when the group ruled Afghanistan before 2001, prompting Karzai to pull out of the talks and suspend security negotiations with the U.S.

Dempsey met with Karzai on Monday, according to the AP, and was positive about the meeting afterward.

“The conversation was very positive,” he said. “I left truly believing that he is as committed as we are to implement the bilateral security agreement.”