BSA needs to be signed promptly: Hagel
"What role America and its allies continue to play in Afghanistan to help the people of that country after 2014 must be clearly defined, and it must be defined very soon,” Hagel told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
The BSA between Afghanistan and the United States must be signed promptly in order for the Americans and their allies to plan and preserve options for a post-2014 presence, the defense secretary argued.
Retrograde of personnel and equipment from Afghanistan was a complex undertaking, Hagel observed, saying that exercise was being executed carefully and responsibly, and it would continue to be a top priority.
"Continuing challenges with our ground lines of communication in Pakistan are but one example of the need to gain certainty now regarding our post-2014 presence," said the secretary, flanked by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Hagel said the closure of the Torkham border gate had not impacted the retrograde of US material, saying the process was ahead of schedule. But the United States was keeping its options open, including the northern supply route, he added.
"We have options to the north. We have another route to the south. We do use air now. But as we all know, air is a lot more expensive. And we're still moving on a couple of other ground lines. Torkham has been closed..." he said.
But the US continued to focus on getting it back open, Hagel said, acknowledging that the Afghan National Army was doing a tremendous job to assure security and do the things that they needed for their country.
"The Afghan security forces are capable of overcoming and, in most cases, overwhelming their Taliban competitors for control of Afghanistan. They have some systemic problems -- logistics, intelligence, signals, transportation -- that we're working with them to knit together into something that you would recognise as an institution, not just a bunch of individual units.
"But they're not confident yet. They have only been at this by themselves for about a year. And think about what they've got facing them in the first half of 2014, a political transition. Then it will take some period of time for them to seat their government and have it functioning," he concluded.
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