WASHINGTON (AP) — Frustrated with his Afghan counterpart, President Barack Obama is ordering the Pentagon to accelerate planning for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of this year. But Obama is also holding out hope that Afghanistan's next president may eventually sign a stalled security agreement that could prevent the U.S. from having to take that step.
Obama spoke Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the first direct conversation between the two leaders since last June. The White House has become increasingly frustrated with Karzai, who has refused to sign a security pact that the White House says is crucial to keeping a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after the war formally concludes at the end of this year.
With no sign that Karzai will sign the agreement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "has tasked the Pentagon with preparing for the contingency that there will be no troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014." However, he added that the U.S. remains open to keeping troops in Afghanistan if an agreement can be signed later this year, likely after the April Afghan elections.
That decision appeared aimed at marginalizing Karzai's role in the high-stakes negotiations over the future of the lengthy American-led war. The Afghan leader has deeply irritated Washington with anti-American rhetoric, as well as with his decision this month to release 65 prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials.
The White House insists it won't keep any American troops in Afghanistan after December without a security agreement giving the military a legal basis for staying in the country. While the White House did not publicly set a deadline for finalizing the agreement before that time, officials said the size and scope of any U.S. mission could shrink the longer Obama waits.