AM 720 KDWN
News, Traffic, Weather

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact isn’t signed – and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

At the same time, in a rare phone call with Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country.

The effort seemed aimed at marginalizing Karzai’s role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a (security agreement) with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a statement following the call. “However, the longer we go without a (deal), the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission.”

Obama’s attempt to minimize Karzai’s importance to U.S. decision-making underscores how fractured the relationship between the two leaders has become. Tuesday’s phone call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won’t keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of the any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama’s advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes in December. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday’s developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama’s call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, “I can’t ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.”

“We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options,” Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off-guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It’s unclear whether Afghanistan’s new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to make a decision on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Lolita C. Baldor at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Cassandra Vinograd in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact isn’t signed – and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

At the same time, in a rare phone call with Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country.

The effort seemed aimed at marginalizing Karzai’s role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a (security agreement) with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a statement following the call. “However, the longer we go without a (deal), the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission.”

Obama’s attempt to minimize Karzai’s importance to U.S. decision-making underscores how fractured the relationship between the two leaders has become. Tuesday’s phone call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won’t keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of the any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama’s advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes in December. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday’s developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama’s call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, “I can’t ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.”

“We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options,” Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off-guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It’s unclear whether Afghanistan’s new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to make a decision on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Lolita C. Baldor at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Cassandra Vinograd in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact isn’t signed – and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

At the same time, in a rare phone call with Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country.

The effort seemed aimed at marginalizing Karzai’s role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a (security agreement) with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a statement following the call. “However, the longer we go without a (deal), the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission.”

Obama’s attempt to minimize Karzai’s importance to U.S. decision-making underscores how fractured the relationship between the two leaders has become. Tuesday’s phone call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won’t keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of the any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama’s advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes in December. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday’s developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama’s call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, “I can’t ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.”

“We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options,” Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off-guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It’s unclear whether Afghanistan’s new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to make a decision on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Lolita C. Baldor at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Cassandra Vinograd in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact isn’t signed – and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

At the same time, in a rare phone call with Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country.

The effort seemed aimed at marginalizing Karzai’s role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a (security agreement) with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a statement following the call. “However, the longer we go without a (deal), the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission.”

Obama’s attempt to minimize Karzai’s importance to U.S. decision-making underscores how fractured the relationship between the two leaders has become. Tuesday’s phone call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won’t keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of the any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama’s advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes in December. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday’s developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama’s call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, “I can’t ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.”

“We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options,” Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off-guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It’s unclear whether Afghanistan’s new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to make a decision on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Lolita C. Baldor at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Cassandra Vinograd in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact isn’t signed – and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

At the same time, in a rare phone call with Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country.

The effort seemed aimed at marginalizing Karzai’s role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a (security agreement) with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a statement following the call. “However, the longer we go without a (deal), the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission.”

Obama’s attempt to minimize Karzai’s importance to U.S. decision-making underscores how fractured the relationship between the two leaders has become. Tuesday’s phone call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won’t keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of the any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama’s advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes in December. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday’s developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama’s call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, “I can’t ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.”

“We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options,” Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off-guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It’s unclear whether Afghanistan’s new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to make a decision on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Lolita C. Baldor at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Cassandra Vinograd in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blunt warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact isn’t signed – and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario.

At the same time, in a rare phone call with Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country.

The effort seemed aimed at marginalizing Karzai’s role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a (security agreement) with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a statement following the call. “However, the longer we go without a (deal), the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission.”

Obama’s attempt to minimize Karzai’s importance to U.S. decision-making underscores how fractured the relationship between the two leaders has become. Tuesday’s phone call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.

The White House insists it won’t keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of the any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.

Despite the troubled ties between Washington and Kabul, many of Obama’s advisers want to see American troops stay in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes in December. The Pentagon envisions keeping up to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces, though some White House advisers would prefer keeping fewer troops, if any.

The U.S. military has also drawn up blueprints for a full withdrawal, and Tuesday’s developments appeared to push that idea closer to the forefront of Pentagon planning.

Obama’s call with Karzai coincided with key military meetings on Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels later this week. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation on the ground.

Dempsey, speaking to reporters traveling with him, said that while the U.S. remains committed to helping Afghanistan after this year, “I can’t ask the young men and women to serve in a country without the protections afforded by a bilateral security agreement.”

“We are at a point where we have to begin planning for other options,” Dempsey said.

The prospect of a full American withdrawal has led to concern among Afghanistan’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, where officials have warned that a civil war could break out and further destabilize the region. Pakistani officials also worry that Afghan security forces will fracture and as many as one-third of the force could desert without continued U.S. assistance.

The U.S. and Afghanistan agreed to details of a security pact last year, and the agreement was also endorsed by a council of 3,000 Afghan tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga. But Karzai caught U.S. officials off-guard by then declaring he wanted his successor to sign the agreement.

It’s unclear whether Afghanistan’s new president will be any more likely than Karzai to do so. There is no clear front-runner among the 11 candidates running to replace the president, who is constitutionally ineligible for a third term and has not endorsed a successor.

Among those running are Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic. Most of the candidates are familiar to U.S. officials.

The longer the U.S. waits to make a decision on its future in Afghanistan, the more expensive and risky a full withdrawal would become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

The Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months.

The Pentagon is currently planning to cut the total American force in Afghanistan to as low as 20,000 by mid-summer, giving commanders the ability to pull all troops out by Dec. 31 if no agreement is reached. There are currently about 33,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Lolita C. Baldor at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, and Cassandra Vinograd in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Obama tells Pentagon to plan for Afghan pullout

KDWN

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has ordered the Pentagon to plan for a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year should the Afghan government refuse to sign a security agreement with the U.S, the White House said Tuesday.

However, in a call with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama also said the U.S. could still keep a limited troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 if the agreement is ultimately signed. He acknowledged that Karzai was unlikely to sign the bilateral security agreement himself, leaving the fate of the continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to the winner of the country’s April elections.

“We will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year,” the White House said in a summary of the call between the two leaders. However, the White House added that “the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”

Tuesday’s call was the first direct contact between Obama and Karzai since last June, underscoring the White House’s frustration with the Afghan leader’s refusal to sign the security agreement. The pact would give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after 2014, and also allow it to use bases across the country.

The White House has repeatedly said it would not leave American troops in Afghanistan without the agreement.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Obama’s order to the Pentagon “a prudent step” given the likelihood that Karzai will not sign an agreement. However, he said the Pentagon would also continue to make plans for a possible U.S. mission in Afghanistan after this year, which would focus on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces.

The Pentagon has long had contingency plans for multiple options in Afghanistan. However, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday that until now, the military was “not actively planning for a complete withdrawal.”

“Now we will,” the Pentagon press secretary said.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey was traveling to Afghanistan Thursday to visit U.S. military leaders in the country and assess the security situation. Dempsey said he continues to prefer keeping an American troop presence in the country because of the continued threat of al-Qaida, but said the options for doing so “are far more constrained than we’re currently recommending.”

Obama has been weighing options from the Pentagon that would keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country after this year, contingent on the security agreement. However, some White House officials are believed to support keeping a smaller troop presence.

The U.S. currently has about 33,600 troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000 in 2010.

The longer the decision takes, the more expensive and risky the troop drawdown will become. With less time to move troops and equipment, the military will have to fly assets out rather than use cheaper ground transportation.

If the security pact is never signed, the Pentagon’s biggest challenge will be closing large military facilities, including the Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Shutting down a massive base typically it takes about 10 months, but military officials said they are prepared to do it in a much shorter – although far more expensive – period if necessary. Military officials said commanders would still like to have about six months to shut the facilities down. If there is no security agreement by late summer, the officials said closing the bases by the end of the year becomes far more difficult.

AP National Security Writer Robert Burns and AP writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC