WASHINGTON, April 17, 2013 – The top commander of NATO and U.S forces in Afghanistan told Congress today a bilateral security agreement will help to address the uncertainty Afghan people have about their country’s future after 2014, when the International Security Assistance Force mission ends and Afghan forces have security responsibility for the whole country.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. stressed the importance of the agreement while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on progress in Afghanistan.
“The U.N. security mandate will expire in December 2014, so our presence, post-2014, will be based on the agreement we make with the Afghan government,” he said.
Dunford said one of the key issues a bilateral security agreement would address is “this idea of uncertainty and the lack of confidence that the Afghan people have about the future.”
“From my perspective, the bilateral security agreement will be the physical manifestation of our commitment to post-2014, and really form the foundation of an effective narrative,” he said. This will help with the “clear and compelling narrative” needed for the future to help in overcoming the Taliban message, which has been one of abandonment, the general added.
Dunford cited the U.S. leadership role in Afghanistan as another reason to come to terms with a post-2014 presence.
“The other reason why the bilateral security agreement is important is because our coalition partners are very much looking to the United States to lead with regard to post-2014,” he said. “They’re going to need the time to generate the political will in their capitals, and do the detailed budget planning, just as we have to do for a post-2014 presence.”
Originally, Dunford said, the agreement was to have the bilateral security agreement signed no later than November 2013, but President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met in January and agreed to accelerate that timeline.
“We are now cautiously optimistic that we would get that in May or June,” Dunford said. “I think it’s very important that we get that before the 2013 fighting season.”
The Afghans will “absolutely” be in the lead going into the 2013 fighting season, the general said, and the information environment they operate in will very much be informed by the sense of commitment that the United States provides about post-2014.
“And, again, I believe the cornerstone of that commitment is the bilateral security agreement,” Dunford said. “I think it’s very, very important, both from a psychological perspective inside the country, as well as for our ability to form a coalition post-2014.”
The general said he would strongly recommend that the agreement be completed to “continue to incentivize our coalition partners to participate with us as we go into the post-2014 mission.”
Dunford also noted that work conducted on the agreement over the last several weeks has featured “direct engagement” involving Karzai, Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“Ambassador [James B.] Cunningham, our U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and I also routinely engage not less than once a week with President Karzai,” Dunford said. “I think that level of engagement is going to be required.”
Obama spoke with Karzai within the last week and addressed the bilateral security agreement, Dunford said.
The presence of coalition forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014 is absolutely, inextricably linked with the future of Afghanistan, Dunford told the House panel.
“What’s most important is that the future of Afghanistan is linked to the bilateral security agreement,” he said. “My sense is … that the people in Afghanistan absolutely recognize that.”