(CNSNews.com) - President Obama wants to leave a contingent of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to serve as trainers and advisers when combat ends, but he won't do it unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai "promptly" signs a security agreement the two sides negotiated last year.
After sending strong hints that the agreement must be signed by the end of 2013, the White House is now sending another "hurry up" signal.
"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," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.
"And, you know, the clock is ticking for the reasons I laid out: We can't contemplate a continued presence there absent a signed bilateral security agreement (BSA). The planning necessary for a continued presence to fight -- to take on counterterrorism missions and to assist in the training of Afghan security forces -- needs to happen early this year."
Without a signed BSA, the U.S. will have to plan for a complete troop withdrawal, leaving the same kind of vacuum in Afghanistan that it left in Iraq.
Carney told reporters that the White House "never set a December 31st hard deadline" for getting a signed agreement. "But it was certainly our preference to complete that agreement in 2013."
He said if a bilateral security agreement is not concluded "promptly," the U.S. "will be forced to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. That's not the future we're seeking. That's not the policy the president believes is best. And we don't believe it's in Afghanistan's interest.
"But the further this slips into 2014, the more likely that outcome will come to pass. The holidays are over, and I would expect that, as the interagency convenes to continue considering options to present to the president for a post-2014 presence, we will have to increasingly factor the lack of a BSA, a signed BSA, into our planning."