Obama Tells Pentagon To Plan A Full Afghan Departure

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement that would keep U.S. troops in his country. Despite the pressure, Obama is giving Afghan officials more time to finish a deal.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now let's turn to a place now where the United States is trying to remain engaged but is not sure it has a willing partner, Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement that would keep U.S. troops in his country. President Obama told Karzai that he'll move ahead with plans to pull out by the end of December. But Obama is still hoping Afghan officials will conclude an agreement that could keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops there next year.

Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The security agreement between the two countries was concluded last November, following its approval by tribal elders. Karzai was expected to sign the agreement. Then he surprised everyone by balking. He wanted changes in the agreement, known as the BSA for Bilateral Security Agreement. The U.S. said no.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice quickly traveled to Kabul. She pressed Karzai to sign by the end of December.

SUSAN RICE: If the agreement isn't signed promptly we will not be able to keep out troops here, because they will not have been invited because the BSA will not have been signed.

BOWMAN: By December, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to back off on a deadline.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Well, there is a cutoff date, but I'm not going to get into cutoff dates.

BOWMAN: The new year came and went with no deal. By earlier this month, official Washington was clearly frustrated. Here's Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: A signed BSA. I don't know what we'll have, what we won't have.

BOWMAN: And it's still not clear what will happen. President Obama has signaled that a deal could be finalized anytime later this year. In case it's not, he directed the Pentagon to begin planning to bring all us troops home by December. Because if there's no deal in the end, the military will have to break down two massive bases - Bagram and Kandahar - and move troops and equipment out of the country. For the military, all the talk is taking up valuable time.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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