By Josh Rogin | FP
Despite statements by Vice President Joe Biden, the State Department is about to begin formal negotiations over the extension of U.S. troops past 2014, a top State Department official said Tuesday.
Last week, U.S. and Afghan negotiators met in Kabul to talk about the Bilateral Security Agreement that will govern the extension of U.S. troops past 2014, when President Barack Obama said the combat mission in Afghanistan will end and the U.S. will complete the transition of the entire country to Afghan government control.
Also last week, Biden told Americans during his Oct. 11 debate with Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan that U.S. troops were leaving Afghanistan by 2014.
“We are leaving in 2014, period, and in the process, we’re going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion,” Biden said. “We’ve been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we’re doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It’s their responsibility, not America’s.”
Marc Grossman, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, explained today that’s not the whole story.
Grossman said Tuesday that the point of the upcoming negotiations is to agree on an extension of the U.S. troop presence well past 2014, for the purposes of conducting counterterrorism operations and training and advising the Afghan security forces.
In May, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that promised an ongoing U.S. commitment to Afghanistan through 2024. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Oct. 3 that Grossman’s deputy, James Warlick, will be the lead U.S. negotiator for the Bilateral Security Agreement that will follow. Karzai’s Ambassador to Washington Eklil Hakimi will lead the negotiations for the Afghan side.