March 7, 2014
Amid crisis over security pact, US Hagel arrives in Afghanistan
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Afghanistan for a weekend visit today but had no plans to meet President Hamid Karzai amid tensions over his refusal to sign a deal governing the post-2014 US military presence, a senior US official said.
Hagel was expected to visit US and international troops across the country and to hold talks with Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Interior Minister Umer Daudzai, a Pentagon spokesman, Carl Woog, said in a statement.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hagel did not expect to meet Karzai amid the dispute over his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) recently endorsed by a loya jirga, an assembly of tribal elders and politicians.
"The United States has made its position on the BSA clear," the official said. "And just two days ago, President Karzai repeated his position to senior US officials that he is not yet ready to sign the BSA and provided no timeline or practical steps for doing so."
Hagel follows a string of senior US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who have visited Afghanistan but had no success in persuading Karzai to sign the agreement. Hagel is the first to visit with no plans to meet Karzai.
US officials have been pressing for the BSA to be signed by the end of the year. They say that further delay would complicate military planning by the United States and other countries contributing to the military coalition fighting Islamist Taliban militants for 12 years.
They have also cautioned that further delay might force the US administration to consider a "zero option" in which all US forces would be withdrawn at the end of 2014.
But the top US military officer said this week he had not been asked to plan for a complete withdrawal.
"I've not been told to plan for a zero option, but clearly I understand that it is a possibility given the current impasse," Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a Pentagon news conference. He said a variety of other options had been considered.