By John Vandiver and Cid Standifer
Copyright 2014 Stars and Stripes
NATO defense chiefs on Thursday said they expect alliance troops to switch to a post-2014 advise-and-assist mission as early as this summer even as U.S. and Afghan officials remain at loggerheads over a bilateral security agreement needed to ensure NATO’s long-term presence in the country.
“We hope to be completely into the mission of train, advise and assist by mid-2014 and hope to be very near whatever we anticipate our size is for the next mission by October 2014,” said Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander Europe.
In recent days, reports have indicated that U.S. commanders are recommending a post-2014 troop presence of either 10,000 troops or none at all.
Failure to resolve a dispute between the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai over a bilateral security agreement for troops operating in the country after 2014 could jeopardize plans for a continued U.S. presence and NATO’s follow-on training mission in Afghanistan.
Karzai has flouted demands by the U.S. and even some of his close aides to sign the agreement quickly so that plans can be made for establishing a follow-on mission. U.S. officials have suggested they could withdraw completely by the end of the year, if the agreement is not signed soon.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Western diplomats in Kabul have largely given up hope Karzai will sign the BSA, particularly given his reaction to a Taliban-claimed attack last week on a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners in which 21 people were killed, 13 of them foreigners. Karzai extended some pro forma condolences, then launched into criticism of a recent NATO airstrike that killed Afghan civilians.