Hagel: US withdrawal from Afghanistan ‘a very real possibility’

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday said the pullout of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan due to the lack of a security agreement was a “real possibility.”

“It’s a very real possibility because if we don’t have a bilateral security agreement, which I’ve noted, that means we can’t protect our forces that would be here after 2014,” Hagel said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

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“No international partners will come. Afghanistan essentially will be alone, but we have no other options,” he added. “We can’t plan for it, the president can’t commit American forces or the United States of America. No other country can, unless we are protected with an agreement.”

“You can use any term you want,” Hagel said. “’Retreat’ or ‘not renewing our efforts here, post 2014,’ you can say it any way you want but what I'm saying is unless we have the security of an agreement to protect our forces. Then we'll have no choice. We will not be able to stay.”

Hagel said the administration was “surprised” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign the security agreement after it was approved by a council of elders.

“The Loya Jirga, which represented thousands of citizens and leaders in Afghanistan, met a couple weeks ago as you know. Overwhelmingly, over 90 percent of those people strongly supported a U.S. partnership past 2014, along with our partners,” Hagel said.

“Yes, it was surprising. But we are dealing with the realities that we have before us,” he added.

Hagel held out hope that Karzai would sign the agreement before presidential elections in the spring.

“I think the more he involves himself … and listens to his people, which leaders must do, I hope he'll come to the right decision on this,” Hagel said.

“Is it worth it or not worth it? It needs to be asked, especially in a representative government, a democracy,” Hagel added. “Those questions must be asked. So it is now up to President Karzai to make a decision.”

Hagel will travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan on Monday, making the first visit by a United States Secretary of Defense in nearly four years.

Defense Department spokesman Carl Woog said Hagel “looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharif and other senior Pakistani officials the United States and Pakistan's common interest in a stable Afghanistan."

Jeremy Herb contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:15 p.m.

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