Complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan means civil war, Pakistani warns

Seeing President Karzai as unlikely to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, President Obama has directed the Pentagon to prepare for a full withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File
President Obama (r.) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai address the press in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Jan. 11, 2013. Obama has since ordered the Pentagon to plan for a full US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year, in the event the Afghan government refuses to sign a security agreement with the US.

If the Obama administration follows through with threats for a “zero option” in Afghanistan, meaning no US troops would be left on the ground after 2014, the move could usher in civil war, a senior Pakistani official warned Tuesday.

The departure of US forces would likely create “mayhem” in the country, which could ultimately prompt one-third of Afghan security forces to desert their posts in the Army and police, the official said in remarks at the Center for Media and Security in Washington, D.C.

“The zero option means a civil war in Afghanistan,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official’s remarks followed a White House announcement earlier Tuesday that President Obama has directed the Pentagon to begin preparing now for a complete drawdown in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

The move was widely seen as a warning to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who “has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign” the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which lays the legal framework for US troops to remain in the country after 2014, according to the White House statement.

“The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any US mission,” the White House said.

What’s more, Mr. Obama warned Mr. Karzai, according to a White House readout of a phone conversation between the two presidents, “The longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 US mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.” 

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel quickly released his own statement, saying he agrees with the move “to ensure adequate plans are 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.”

There would be more discussion of the matter, Secretary Hagel added, as he meets in Brussels with his defense minister counterparts later this week.

The White House announcement is widely seen as an effort to place pressure on Karzai to sign the BSA before the April presidential elections.

“Please don’t ask me to comment on the US administration’s posturing,” the Pakistani official said. “But I think it’s all posturing.” 

Whether it is an effective move is another matter. “Maybe he [Karzai] will not buy it,” the official adds. “It will be too simple for him to fall for this.”

That said, Obama is also known to be skeptical about the option of leaving a great number of troops in Afghanistan. While the Pentagon is pushing for tens of thousands of troops to remain in the country, the White House is likely agree to about 10,000 at most.

Regardless of whether the BSA is signed, 2015 is likely to be a difficult year in Afghanistan, the Pakistani official added. 

Afghan security forces still need a great deal of training, as they have yet to become “a mature fighting machine,” the official said.

Without more training in the wake of a US force departure, Afghan troops are likely to desert, the official adds, even as insurgent groups rush in “to fill that vacuum.”

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