March 7, 2014
US military chief: Security delays a risk to Afghan forces
The US military could wait months for a political decision on whether troops stay or leave Afghanistan, but delaying a security pact would damage the confidence of Afghan forces and undermine NATO's plans, the nation's top military officer said today.
The comments by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, came amid an impasse over the security pact, which would allow American troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014.
President Barack Obama's administration has said the pact needs to be signed this year, despite resistance from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has suggested the deal might not be concluded before presidential elections in April 2014.
Dempsey also said the pact "really needs to be done now."
But he added that the US military's logistical constraints weren't the main obstacle, warning of other factors, such as the need by many allies - some of whom need parliamentary approval for any future troop presence - to make plans soon. A delay would also erode the confidence of Afghan security forces as they fight a still-potent Taliban insurgency, he said.
"We're not the limiting factor," Dempsey told a Pentagon news conference when asked how long he would need logistically to get troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"We wouldn't be to a level where it would begin to affect the options (facing the US military) until probably early summer," he added.
The United States has 46,000 troops in Afghanistan, but that figure is set to fall to 34,000 by early 2014.
Dempsey noted that the Afghan mission included some other NATO nations "who have a different set of requirements to make their decisions" regarding their troops contributions. There are approximately 27,000 non-US NATO-led troops in Afghanistan.
"So, we will see an erosion of the coalition," he said.
"And by the way, the other thing we will see is an erosion of confidence by Afghan security forces as they begin to be anxious - literally - about whether we're there to support them."