Hagel: Full U.S. Retreat From Afghanistan 'A Very Real Possibility'
December 9, 2013 - 7:30 AM
By Susan Jones
(CNSNews.com) - Although he didn't call it a "retreat," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that all American troops will have to leave Afghanistan in 2014 unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs a security agreement with the United States.
"Well, you can use any term you want, 'retreat' or 'not renewing our efforts here post-2014.' You can say it any way you want. But what I'm saying is, unless we have the security of an agreement to protect our forces, then we'll have no choice. We'll -- we will not be able to stay," Hagel told CBS News State Department correspondent Margaret Brennan.
The interview aired Sunday on "Face the Nation."
Hagel said removing all troops from Afghanistan is "a very real possibility, because if we don't have a bilateral security agreement...that means we can't protect our forces that would be here after 2014; no international partners will come."
"Did the U.S. miscalculate in thinking he (Karzai) could be a partner?" Brennan asked Hagel.
"We were surprised," Hagel said.
Although Afghanistan's tribal elders -- the loya jirga -- overwhelmingly approved the bilateral security agreement (BSA), Karzai is now making additional demands on the United States, refusing to sign the agreement until they are met.
"Yes, it was disappointing. Yes, it was surprising," Hagel said. "I think the more he involves himself, President Karzai, and listens to his people -- which leaders must do -- I hope he will 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', because if there's uncertainty -- if the president of this country doesn't make a decision on this -- then, you're right, there will be some questions as to how and what we do from here."
Prompted by the terror attacks on the United States, President George w. Bush sent American soldiers to Afghanistan in October 2001 to clear the country of al Qaida and Taliban terrorists, many of whom fled to neighboring Pakistan.
Since then, more than 21-hundred American troops have died in the Afghanistan war, sometimes by the Afghan security forces they're trying to train. The United States has poured billions of dollars into the undeveloped country, building infrastructure and providing aid to the people.
Brennan asked Hagel about the war's huge costs:
"American people look at this, all the blood, all the treasure," she said. "They hear things that Hamid Karzai says about adding new demands...before he signs a security agreement, just a refusal to comply. I mean, he's not even here in the country while you, the secretary of defense, are in country. Why not? You know, why can't Americans look at that and say it's just not worth it?"
"Well, I think that is a legitimate question that -- we should ask that question, is it worth it or not worth it. It needs to be asked, and especially in a representative government, a democracy, those questions must be asked. So it is now up to President Karzai to make a decision."
'Not my role to pressure presidents'
In Afghanistan on Saturday, Hagel told reporters, "I never asked for a meeting with President Karzai. That was not the purpose of my trip, never suggested it in any way. I never received an invitation to meet with him. I didn't expect a meeting with him. As I have noted -- explained, this trip is about the troops."
"Why wouldn't you want to meet with Karzai?" another reporter asked hagel on Saturday. "I mean you came all the way to Afghanistan. He holds the key to getting the BSA signed. Why wouldn't you want to use this opportunity to kind of cajole him and pressure him, to seek out his concerns and kind of come to -- at least get closer to a deal to make this happen?"
"Well, let me answer it this way," Hagel said. "I say again, this trip to Afghanistan was planned weeks ago. And it was planned for the sole purpose of working with our troops, reaching out to our troops, thanking our troops, wishing them happy holidays, acknowledging the work they did. So that's number one.
"Second, there is not much I could add in a meeting with President Karzai to what has already been said two weeks ago. The national security advisor to the president of the United States, Ambassador Rice, was here and spent a lot of time with President Karzai. And I don't think there was much left that was ambiguous about what we want to see go forward.
"But even more to the point, I don't think pressure on -- coming from the United States or more pressure is going to be helpful in persuading President Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement. The people of Afghanistan, through the body that he empaneled, the Loya Jirga, spoke rather plainly and clearly and dramatically about the interest that they believe for this country in going forward.
"So that's not my -- that's not my role to pressure presidents."