By James Kitfield
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s dissing of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, refusing to even meet with him on Hagel’s current visit to the region, is a clear indication of just how fed up the Obama administration is with the mercurial Afghan leader. Now U.S. officials are signalling that other senior Afghan officials could sign the security agreement that Karzai is holding hostage in an attempt to wring additional concessions from the United States. Recall also that Afghan leaders reached a major turning point in their country’s post-9/11 journey recently when 2,500 tribal chieftains met in Kabul to approve a Bilateral Security Agreement allowing a residual U.S. and NATO force of 7,000 to 12,000 troops to remain in the country after the end of 2014. There was little doubt that the traditional grand assembly would approve the agreement. Without it, Afghan Security Forces would lack critical enablers such as intelligence, counter-terrorism and logistical support, and a promised $4 billion in annual international aid would be put at risk.The sticking points have been Washington’s insistence that its troops remain under U.S. legal jurisdiction, and its counter-terrorism forces retain the operational flexibility needed to target Al Qaeda. The cautionary tale on everyone’s mind is Iraq. After Washington and Baghdad failed to reach a similar Status of Forces Agreement in 2011, all U.S. troops withdrew and the country began its long-slide towards political paralysis and a back to Al Qaeda-inspired civil strife that has killed 5,000 Iraqis this year alone.