Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that a U.S. retreat from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 is entirely possible if Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues to refuse to sign a security agreement that will keep a handful of American and NATO troops in the country after 2014 to advise the Afghan security forces.
“I hope he'll come to the right decision on this. Because we need that bilateral security agreement signed for our own planning, for our own purposes, as well as our international partners,” Hagel told CBS News State Department correspondent Margaret Brennan in an interview from Afghanistan, where he is traveling.
Hagel warned that there is “a very real possibility” that the U.S. will have to make a full retreat from the country at the end of 2014 if Karzai doesn’t sign the agreement.
“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, no international partners will come, Afghanistan essentially will be alone. But we have no other options,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Karzai cast doubt over the future of American troops in Afghanistan in late November, when he rejected the recommendation of the Loya Jirga, an Afghan council of 2,500 tribal elders, that he sign the long-delayed security agreement.
The U.S. has pushed for the agreement to be signed by the end of December. Karzai is trying to push off the issue until next April, after the next Afghan presidential election. The Afghan president did not even stay home to meet with Hagel during his trip. Instead, he was meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said he was opposed to any foreign forces being in the region and security should be left to the Afghan people.
Hagel told Brennan it is “legitimate” to question the country’s continuing presence in Afghanistan.
“We should ask that question. Is it worth it or not worth it?” he said. “It needs to be asked, especially in a representative government, a democracy - those questions must be asked. So it is now up to President Karzai to make a decision.”