The United States has been pressing the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, saying a signed document is needed to plan how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan to train Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations after the U.S.-led NATO coalition forces complete their withdrawal by the end of this year.
Carney, in his media briefing Monday, said as each day passes in the new year, "it becomes harder to plan with our NATO allies for a post-2014 mission because we can't do that without a BSA that's signed after it's been negotiated." The agreement has already been overwhelmingly approved by Afghanistan's Loya Jirga council of elders last November.
"And as you know, there were commitments by the Afghan government to complete that by the end of the year," Carney said.
If the BSA is not signed, there may not be any U.S. or NATO troop presence after this year. Karzai, however, has so far refused to sign it unless there are more guarantees, including additional assurances that civilians will be protected. He has also said it should be signed only by Afghanistan's new president after the April elections.
Earlier, the United States had wanted the agreement by end of last December.
Carney said while U.S. President Barack Obama believes that the "best policy" is to maintain a presence in Afghanistan, "he cannot and will not do that absent a BSA."
While Carney would not comment on any new timeframe to sign the agreement, he said if the BSA is not concluded promptly, "then we will be forced to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S., nor NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. That's not the future we're seeking."
"Look, I don't have a specific deadline or other policy decisions to announce today, but I can tell you that we're talking about weeks and not months," Carney added. "And the clock is ticking for the reasons I laid out. We can't contemplate a continued presence there absent a signed bilateral security agreement."
The United States has refused to make any changes in the agreement as it took more than a year of intense negotiations just to arrive at the final draft presented to the Loya Jirga. With an agreement in place, up to 15,000 foreign soldiers would remain in Afghanistan to train the Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations.
Without a signed agreement, Afghanistan may also lose billions of dollars of international aid it badly needs to bolster its security forces.
NATO Secretary-General Andres Fogh Rasmussen has said a NATO Status of Forces Agreement cannot be signed until the agreement with the United States is concluded.