(CNSNews.com) - American troops are still dying in Afghanistan as the 12-year war winds to a close. And there are growing concerns that everything the U.S. fought for could be undermined if U.S. troops can't continue their training and counterterrorism mission in the Islamic country beyond 2014.
Unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs a security agreement by Dec. 31, the Obama administration says it will be forced to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan, leaving the country to the same terrorists we went there to defeat.
"[W]e will not be able to maintain a troop presence there if this document is not signed," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday.
Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) intended to protect U.S. and allied troops who would remain behind for the post-war mission. Karzai is making new demands, but on Wednesday, Carney echoed other administration officials in saying there will be no changes to the agreement.
"The negotiation is over. And if we cannot conclude a BSA promptly, then we 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. And that's not a future that we want, and it is not in Afghanistan's interests, but it -- that is what we will plan for without prompt conclusion of the BSA."
Asked about the deadline for Karzai to sign the security agreement, Carney said "right away, as soon as possible."
Doing so, Carney said, "is an opportunity to strengthen and sustain the partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan to support Afghans in achieving lasting peace, security and development."
He refused to give a specific date, saying only that a signed agreement is needed "promptly." But National Security Adviser Susan Rice has said an agreement must be signed by the end of the year.
The Associated Press has reported that Karzai intends to leave the signing of the agreement to his successor, who will be elected in April.
Obama's Afghanistan policy 'was very clear'
In his remarks on Tuesday, Carney gave President Obama credit for bringing "clarity" to U.S. policy in Afghanistan:
"The president, when he reviewed our policy toward Afghanistan, I think -- and we're going way back now -- when we came here... it was noted that when you went to Afghanistan and talked to our representatives there, both military and civilian, and asked them what our policy was, you got different answers from everybody. And that was what we inherited.
"And what the president instituted was a very clear-eyed, deliberate review of our policy and our objectives and produced a policy that was very clear. We are there because we were attacked and we were there -- and we are there to go after those who attacked us, al-Qaida, and to take steps necessary so that Afghanistan can -- and the government there can maintain stability so that Afghanistan does not becomes again a harbor for al-Qaida or other terrorists who have the objective of attacking the United States or American citizens.
"And we have -- because of the remarkable skill and bravery of our troops, as well as those not in uniform who have worked on this effort -- made enormous progress in going after al-Qaida Core in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region."
"Enormous progress" is not victory, however.
In December 2009, President Obama announced a troop surge for Afghanistan, sending 30,000 more Americans into harm's way to "to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country." In the same breath, he announced, "
"After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home."
Then on June 22, 2011, in a speech to the nation, Obama laid out a troop-withdrawl timetable, saying the U.S. mission would change from combat to support by 2014.
As CNSNews.com has reported, most of the American troop deaths in Afghanistan have happened on Obama's watch.
The 12-Year War: 73% of U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan on Obama's Watch
Two-Thirds of U.S. Deaths in Afghanistan Have Occurred Since Obama’s Surge
Kerry: After 12 Years of War, 'The U.S. Wants Success in Afghanistan'