WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has told the Pentagon to prepare for the possibility that no US troops will be left in Afghanistan over President Hamad Karzai's refusal to sign a joint security agreement.
The United States has said that after its formal drawdown of troops from Afghanistan by year's end, it could leave a contingent of as many as 8,000 for counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida targets and to train Afghan forces. But Karzai's refusal to sign a security deal has frustrated the White House, which has been forced to abandon an earlier demand that he sign the deal in weeks, not months.
"Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014," the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.
Obama told Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday that he had given the order to the Pentagon, the White House said. Obama's phone call to Karzai was the first substantive discussion between the two leaders since June.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was carrying the modified US position to Brussels for a meeting with NATO defense ministers that starts on Wednesday.