WASHINGTON - Facing sharp criticism from a Senate panel, a senior Obama administration official expressed optimism Thursday that the U.S. will reach an agreement with the Afghan government allowing American troops to remain in the country beyond 2014.
James Dobbins, the special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said President Obama is still mulling a range of options for the actual size of the U.S. military presence at the end of next year but told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that as the Afghans build up their country, they won't stand alone.
"We've made significant progress on the text of a new bilateral security agreement," Dobbins said. "Of course, without an agreement on our presence in Afghanistan, we would not remain. But we do not believe that that's the likely outcome of these negotiations."
But Democrats and Republicans on the committee voiced frustration over the shortage of detail on troop levels.
With Afghans slated to elect a new president in the spring of 2014, it is key to let them know they won't be abandoned by the United States as the Taliban claims, said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the committee chairman.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has to decide if he is willing to accept a longer-term U.S. troop presence by negotiating an agreement with acceptable terms, he said.
"For our part, I believe that President Obama should signal to the Afghans and our allies what the post-2014 U.S. troop presence will look like governed by a security agreement," Menendez said. "The lack of clarity on this point has led to too much hedging in the region."
U.S. Toll in Afghanistan
Wounded Source: Department of Defense.