By Gopal Ratnam and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News
WASHINGTON — The United States is looking beyond Afghan President Hamid Karzai to signing a security agreement with his successor, even as support in Congress slips and intelligence officials warn that the Taliban may retake some territory won by Afghan forces.
Frustrated by Karzai's failure to meet several U.S. deadlines for concluding a bilateral security accord that would keep U.S. and other foreign troops in Afghanistan after December, the U.S. is now focused on ensuring that Afghan presidential elections scheduled for April go as planned, current and former U.S. officials said.
While some American intelligence officials and lawmakers think Afghanistan is unraveling and the U.S. should pull out, the situation is not as dire and the Obama administration should look beyond Karzai and focus on the elections, said Michele Flournoy, a former top Pentagon policy official who's now a senior adviser at the Boston Consulting Group.
"The most important event happening with regard to Afghanistan are the elections," Flournoy said in an interview. "They will be the first peaceful transition of power in the country's history," she said, adding that all 11 candidates to succeed Karzai support a continued U.S. military presence and favor signing the security agreement.
Concerned about security during the election, as well as possible delays in the next president taking office, the U.S. military is assisting Afghan security forces in safeguarding the nationwide vote, one U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.