A meeting Wednesday between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will set the tone, however chilly, for a year's worth of negotiation over whether U.S. troops will remain in the country after this year.
Obama delivered a warning to Karzai during a phone call today that he is prepared to use emergency measures to ensure all U.S. troops are removed from the country by the end of the year. The Guardian reports:
As a result, the White House has been considering whether to order to its military commanders to include the so-called “zero option” in its planning scenarios, according to a senior official speaking on background.
Administration officials say that as of the middle of last week, president Obama had yet to make a final determination on the order but is keen to demonstrate that he is not bluffing when he says the US would pull out entirely if the BSA is not signed.
So it's safe to say that things are a little frosty between the two sides. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reportedly has the "zero option" draft with him in Brussels, where NATO leaders will continue negotiations with Afghanistan on Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal points out today's phone call was the first time Obama and Karzai have spoken since last summer.
The President has made clear he wants to keep a limited troop presence in Afghanistan to secure the country from any potential threats past the end of 2014. Mostly, the NATO-led coalition would help train the Afghan army to combat the tactics used by insurgents in the country.
But that would require a Bilateral Security Agreement signed by both countries, which in at least one draft keeps U.S. troops in Afghanistan for another ten years. President Karzai so far refuses to cooperate despite his limited time remaining in office, and the pact's popularity in Afghanistan. The relationship fractured even further after Karzai released 65 detainees from an Afghan security prison despite U.S. concerns and criticism.
Meanwhile the clock ticks ever closer towards the end of 2014, when the remaining troops are to be returned stateside, and there's still no agreement in place. Transporting thousands of troops can't be done in a day, so the Pentagon is drafting possible last-minute measures to ensure all possibilities are on the table.